Out of the darkness: Former Durham police officer shares her artistic journey out of depression

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ByJoel Brown via WTVD logo
Wednesday, November 16, 2022
Former Durham officer shares her artistic journey out of depression
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Miana Richards says her struggle with depression began long ago. But in 2020 -- as the pandemic took hold -- she hit a breaking point.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's only been about three months since Miana Richards turned her side business into her main gig: designing, building and creating accent walls in homes across the Triangle. The Durham wife and mom is now an Instagram star. Her appointment book is filling up.

"I never thought it would be this successful. I was just playing around at first," Richards said.

These days you'll see her covered in paint and armed with a laser level and a nail gun. But not long ago Richards was armed with a real gun -- her service weapon. She was a 15-year veteran of the Durham Police Department; a sergeant overseeing officers and also a homicide detective.

"I always wanted to be a police officer since I was young. I wanted to be a homicide detective. That was my biggest goal," said Richards. "I loved being a police officer. I loved helping the community. I loved solving homicides; figuring out the crime and who did it and getting the victims' voices heard through the investigative process."

Richards said her struggle with depression began long ago. But in 2020 -- as the pandemic took hold -- she hit a breaking point.

Racial tensions flared on the streets -- in the wake of George Floyd's murder. Richards remembers the distress she felt even admitting to strangers that she was the police. She took DPD's trauma counseling services. It wasn't helping. Things got darker.

"I winded up going into a deep depression - very dark, very dark," she said. "I would get up, get my kids ready for school and I was just numb."

Durham clinical social worker Bobby Newell does not treat Richards. But she said she believes police departments need to do more to address the emerging mental health struggles of officers.

"I think (police officers) are having a real crisis right now," said Newell who is seeing more and more local police officers seeking counseling help.

"In the past, it was a rare occurrence if we had a police officer as a client. I've definitely seen a huge increase in that," she said.

Newell counts the mounting staffing shortages at Triangle police departments combined with low morale and the constant feeling of threat on the job all as factors.

"At some point, I think that can tip over and crash into depression," Newell said. "Many officers are having an identity crisis, just questioning, 'Why am I doing this?'"

It's a question that Richards had to ask herself. She ultimately decided to quit the police force.

"Although I love the profession. I love the community. I miss it so bad," Richards said. "But I had to put myself first."

OUT OF THE DARKNESS

Three months later, since she left DPD in the throes of a personal depression -- Miana Richards feels like she's thriving again.

"Working with the walls is definitely therapeutic for me," she said.

Her designs have become a hit. Her company, Miana's Decor Accent Walls, has become a career. She credits her creative outlet with healing 95% of the darkness she was experiencing.

"I'm super-happy. Not everybody is blessed to find that craft that helps them get through a period like that," Richards said.

Durham psychologist, Dr. Ashly Gaskin-Wasson agreed that "There's something about a change in environment, which is very important."

Gaskin-Wasson did not treat Richards' depression but she discussed how to identify the signs:

  • Feeling down, depressed or hopeless every day for at least two weeks
  • Losing interest in things that typically bring you joy.
  • Appetite changes
  • Sleepless nights or not wanting to get out of bed at all

"We might also see feelings of worthlessness or guilt and then we might also see thoughts of suicide or not wanting to be here anymore, repeatedly," said Gaskin-Wasson.

The next step is seeking help. RIchards said she quit Durham PD to start putting herself first. She found a happier self in Miana's Decor.

"My therapist said I need you to do something that makes you happy, and I need you to stay busy," she said. "I was already Miana's decor, decorating and accent walls on the side. And I just kind of picked up and stayed busy."

Gaskin-Wasson warned it will not be the same for every person. Sometimes there are fewer options for people to be able to exit depression into a space more conducive to health.

"But there is something there around identifying some values that are important to you and being able to live out those values," Gaskin-Wasson said. "In being able to, to overcome depression."

Richards said finding something new doesn't have to be a business or money-making venture.

"It can be just something that can help you therapeutically like this did me," she said. "Anything that you're good at to help you get through these dark moments. Stay busy. Get help."

If you're struggling with emotional distress or a suicidal crisis, you can call or text 9-8-8. A trained counselor is standing by.