Searcy resident promotes depression awareness

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published February 24, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated February 22, 2013 at 10:36 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Alana Pinchback is executive director for the Robert E. Elliot Foundation, which works to increase awareness/prevention of suicide and depression in Searcy and area schools.

— Throughout her life, Alana Pinchback has been sure of one thing: Prayers are answered.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, it was her rambunctious dog, Annabelle, who first alerted her to the tumor.

“She came up and sniffed up and down my arm and pressed right on where the tumor was,” Pinchback said.

For years, the family had thought they’d need to give the dog up, unable to handle her excess energy, but people kept telling Pinchback that they had Annabelle for a reason.

“We knew that it was specifically a God thing,” Pinchback said.

After undergoing a double mastectomy and chemo to battle the aggressive tumor, Pinchback will celebrate five years of being cancer-free on June 12.

“We were so blessed by the way the Searcy community came out and cared for us while I was sick,” Pinchback said. “They brought food every day. Both the community and my husband were amazing, and it was such a blessing.”

Pinchback first came to the Searcy community in 2001 when her husband, Keith, took at job with Arkansas State University-Beebe. Born in Forrest City, Pinchback and her husband both grew up in Jonesboro and consider it home.

After graduating from Jonesboro High School and attending Arkansas State University to major in psychology, Pinchback found a niche in bank marketing. She quickly worked her way up to marketing director at Simmons First Bank in Jonesboro before she and her husband moved to Helena in 1990. When the couple had their daughter, Ainsley, in 1996, it was back to Jonesboro to be near family, where they remained until the move to Searcy in 2001.

“My family moved in July, and we entered the community as it was still grieving after the loss of Dr. Elliott,” Pinchback said. “I never got to meet him, but it was amazing to see how one man had affected the whole community.”

Dr. Robert E. Elliott, a Searcy radiologist and community leader, had begun showing signs of depression and died by suicide in 2001. In his memory, close friends and family created the Dr. Robert E. Elliott Foundation to help raise awareness of depression and suicide in the community.

When the foundation’s longtime executive director retired in 2010, another prayer of Pinchback’s was answered.

“I had been working at White County Medical Center, but I wanted to spend more time at home, so I put in my notice,” Pinchback said. “That’s when Mrs. Elliott called.”

The job of executive director not only allowed Pinchback to work from home; it let her draw from her own struggles with depression to help educate others.

“I battled severe depression as a teen,” Pinchback said. “In the late ’70s and early ’80s, you didn’t talk about things like that. There was so much shame.”

Pinchback said she was blessed with parents who supported her, but that her family didn’t have the information on teen depression that they do now.

“Faith especially helped with the depression I went through,” said Pinchback, whose family attends First United Methodist Church in Searcy. “If it hadn’t been for my faith, I probably would have had more thoughts of suicide.”

Because of her experiences as a teen, Pinchback has helped guide the Elliott Foundation into working more with Searcy-area schools to promote awareness of depression, bullying and self-injury. Pinchback is currently working with the Searcy Public Schools to develop a lesson plan that will be presented to high school students this spring. The foundation is also working with students in the Searcy High School East Lab, where students are creating public-service announcements on depression to help educate their peers.

Pinchback said that if these resources been available when she was a teen, she would have felt more at ease about what she was experiencing.

“People suffering from depression are not damaged or defective,” Pinchback said. “It’s an illness like high blood pressure or diabetes. People need to know it’s a clinical illness.”

In the next few years, Pinchback has many goals for the foundation, including increasing the organization’s work with high school students and possibly expanding the program out of White County.

“I want people to hear the name ‘Elliott Foundation’ and know exactly what it is we do,” Pinchback said.

Pinchback said some people get confused and think the foundation is a crisis center, rather than an educational resource.

“We have a line people can call, and we can set them up with customized packets with literature and a provider list, depending on the situation,” Pinchback said.

The foundation also sponsors free depression screenings at many community events and a monthly Survivors of Suicide meeting.

“We want to provide people with as much support and information as possible,” Pinchback said.

When speaking with people who come to the foundation, and especially to teens, Pinchback said she regularly draws on her own experiences with depression as a teen.

“They need to know it does get better,” Pinchback said. “I know the dark days, but I want to give them hope and encouragement.”

For more information on the Elliott Foundation, visit eilliottfoundation.com.

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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