He'll ride bike across country to get men to face depression

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 7, 2011 - 7:17 PM
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Mark Meier and daughter, Anna

Robert Hockert is in satisfactory condition at Hennepin County Medical Center, and I find myself rooting for a man I do not know more than I normally might.

But the very morning that Hockert, 71, stepped out of his car behind the St. Anthony Police Department and shot himself in the chest, I was having coffee with Mark Meier, a social worker, businessman and father of three.

Meier, 44, was all smiles catching me up on his bold mission to ride his bike from coast to coast this summer, 75 miles a day on average, through 15 states. His 14-year-old daughter, Anna, will ride with him for most of the trip. Meier hopes to engage everyone he meets in a dialogue about the particular perils of male depression, a topic that many men and, too often, health care providers, would rather shove under the rug.

Meier doesn't come to this just professionally. Nine years ago, he was as desperate as Hockert, a business owner who, family members said, was in financial trouble and struggling with depression. Meier grows pale considering the inevitable outcome had he pulled the trigger on his shotgun, which was in his mouth. But his 9-month-old daughter, Ellie, awoke and started to wail, saving her father's life. Now Meier hopes to do the same for his fellow males.

"I continue to meet men suffering in silence," said Meier, noting that about 75 men kill themselves every day, mostly related to untreated depression. "After a presentation, they'll pull me aside or call or e-mail me and say, 'I think I might be depressed, but I can't tell anyone.'"

It's time to talk, said Meier, founder of the Face It Foundation (www. faceitfoundation.org), created to transform perceptions about male depression. His ride from San Francisco to New York, beginning May 14, includes stops at Stanford University, the Mayo Clinic, University of Michigan, Johns Hopkins and New York University. He'll talk with politicians, community leaders and neighborhood associations about what he calls "a public health crisis." He plans to get in the faces of insurance and pharmaceutical representatives, too, to ask them to be "responsible and ethical" in their approaches to treating depression.

Meier isn't opposed to using antidepressants as part of a treatment plan, but said it's too easy for doctors to say, "Take a pill and call a counselor." It's critical, he said, to incorporate exercise and spirituality, as well as the involvement of family, friends, co-workers and supervisors, to make it harder for men to feel isolated.

Hockert, Meier said, "now has the opportunity to realize that he's not alone, that it's OK to reach out and ask for help. I thank God I'm still here."

To prepare for his arduous ride, Meier runs, bikes or works out in a gym four to five days a week. He'll ride his LeMond road bike from San Francisco to Denver, then will shift to a Raleigh tandem when Anna joins him. Longtime friend Dan Hansen, who co-owns mental-health focused Public Health Solutions with his wife, Shannon Williams, will ride with him. Another close friend, Bill Dehkes, will accompany them in an RV.

Meier struggled with depression and anxiety as far back as college. He tried to "just get over it" but instead spiraled downward into "negativity and hopelessness," he said. At 27, he landed in the emergency room for what doctors first believed was a heart attack but was actually anxiety-related. Alcohol numbed the pain. His wife, Amy, kept her game face on, worked nights as a nurse so she, not Mark, could take care of the children during their waking hours. She watched the outgoing, funny man she married in 1991 fall to pieces.

"There was this need to appear normal, as individuals, a couple, a family," Amy said. "You don't know how friends will react. I look back on that time now and wish I had had someone to reach out to, for Mark's sake, for all of our sake."

Amy and Mark launched the Face It Ride on March 5 with more than 150 friends and supporters. Amy calls her husband a survivor.

"He's made such a conscious effort to live a healthy lifestyle and continue his recovery," she said. "I feel so blessed knowing he's here, celebrating his children's birthdays."

Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350 • gail.rosenblum@startribune.com

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