Chicago Mom Kelley Kitley Is on a Mission to Save Lives by Sharing Her Story of Abuse, Addiction and Survival

Approximately one in five adults in the U.S. — 43.8 million — experiences mental illness in a given year. Left untreated, the resulting symptoms, side effects, and outcomes range from alcoholism and drug addiction to incarceration, homelessness, and suicide. Yet the majority of those affected by mental illness live without treatment.

Along a spectrum that includes generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and major depressive disorder, women are twice as likely to be affected as men.

“I should know,” says Chicago psychotherapist and Oak Park resident Kelley Kitley. “I was one of them.”

Kelley Kitley
Kelley Kitley (Photo by Raymond Nieves Photography.)

Kitley, who is a licensed clinical social worker with a practice, Serendipitous Psychotherapy, on Chicago’s Mag Mile, struggled with postpartum anxiety and panic after the birth of all four of her children and is now in recovery from substance abuse disorder. She has appeared on the TODAY show to discuss how burnout can lead to alcohol abuse among stressed moms, and is the subject of a documentary by A Sunny Space about her struggles with alcohol.

“I want the women who are watching to know that we are never alone,” Kitley told Megyn Kelly on TODAY. “There needs to be no shame attached to this.”

Beyond hormonal differences between women and men, which can cause conditions like postpartum depression, life circumstances and cultural inequality can predispose women to mental illnesses like depression. Women face unequal power and status, often shoulder more of the burden at home even if they work outside the home, and are more likely to have experienced sexual abuse, itself a predisposing factor for mental illness.

Kitley has made it her mission to remove the stigma tied to mental illness and substance abuse, impact as many people as possible with her story and, ultimately, save lives by educating people on how and where to get treatment. She shares her story in her Amazon bestselling book, MY Self: An autobiography of survival,”  which was recognized as a Chicago Literary Legacy by the Chicago Public Library Foundation.

Kitley, a Chicago native and Regina Dominican graduate, was also recognized by Mental Health America as the 2019 Social Worker of the Year for her dedication to social work and to improving care and treatment of people who have mental illnesses.

How Kitley Is Taking Her Message Further—and You Can Help

Now, she is teaming up with Chicago-based company Tarleton/Dawn Productions and to adapt her book into an eight-minute short educational film to spread awareness around the country. Kitley plans to use this video as a powerful visual tool to help make a positive social impact in communities where she often speaks pro bono. To raise funds for the project, Kitley has  created a GoFundMe campaign with an initial goal of $30,000.

Learn more about Kitley by watching her TEDx Talk “I Show My Scars So Others Know They Can Heal,” given at Lake Forest College.