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Going the distance for those fighting depression

Nick Shannon after completing his marathon

Running 26.2 miles requires dedication, perseverance, and a special inner drive to keep on going when aching muscles and exhausted lungs beg to call it quits.

Nick Shannon of Ann Arbor derives that motivation for the long haul from a particularly meaningful place, and he used that momentum to propel himself through the course of the 2013 Phoenix Marathon. Nick entered the race in part to generate funds for the Depression Center and the Center’s Under the Helmet program, which promotes mental health education in high schools.

Nick chose the Depression Center to benefit from his long-distance effort because of his own personal experiences with depression, which he shares quite candidly.

As a student at Ann Arbor’s Pioneer High School, he was heavily involved in playing ice hockey until a series of concussions forced him out of the sport. Because of the injuries, he was unable to read or write for some time. “I couldn’t even walk in a straight line for six months,” Nick says.

When Nick noticed early signs of depression beginning to surface, his doctors attributed them to the after effects of his concussions. But instead of improving over time as his head injury healed, the symptoms intensified, his moods turned dramatically worse, and “things got really, really bad,” he says.

After seeing a psychiatrist off and on for about two years, Nick was hospitalized at U-M during his senior year of high school. Nick says that his inpatient stay was the first time he was diagnosed with severe depression and was provided with medication to manage it. He credits the care he received during his hospitalization with saving his life.

Now a student at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., Nick is grateful for his second chance and decided to run his first marathon as a way to give back.

For years, Nick has been deeply involved in charitable work. In 2010, he founded Ann Arbor Teens for Kids (AATFK), a volunteer organization designed to engage teens in helping their community by exposing them to the benefits of volunteering. Nick also volunteered as a coach for the Ann Arbor Rockets Hockey program, which was launched in 2010 through the help of a grant from the Dance Marathon of the University of Michigan. For children who might have difficulty accessing traditional hockey programs due to disability, this team provides them with the opportunity to play. For Nick, whose own playing days were cut short by injury, this cause was particularly meaningful.

In 2011, the National Civic League named him their All America City Youth Leader Award Winner.

Many find it quite surprising when they learn that someone so outgoing and engaged in the community is also managing a depressive illness. “Frankly, a lot of people are shocked to find out I have depression,” Nick says. But he also observes that his depression has in many ways also motivated him to do more, and to reach out to others who could use a helping hand.

He says that although right now he’s doing far better than he was at his lowest point, he still has his bad days, and he understands that depression is an illness he may need to actively manage and cope with for some time.

For someone so young, Nick takes a remarkably long view on what’s required for him to deal with his illness, so it’s perhaps fitting that the event that he chose to drive his fundraising efforts for depression required patience, persistence, and endurance. Congratulations to Nick on completing his race!

If you are interested in making a donation to the Depression Center in honor of Nick’s race, please: