For former elementary principal, crisis prompts new effort to raise awareness of mental health issues

Former elementary school principal Cory Strathman is trying to raise awareness of mental health issues after his own issues with depression and alcohol use led to the loss of his job with Shawnee Mission.

The first time Cory Strathman experienced it, he was in college.

“I would exhibit symptoms of isolating and staying in my room for two to three days once a semester,” he remembers. “I told my friends that I was sick, but I just didn’t want to be around the world that day. I questioned my worth and path that life was on.“

As quickly as the negative thoughts appeared, though, they would resolve, and he would get back to his normal life “without thinking twice.”

Today, however, he recognizes those episodes as the start of what’s now been diagnosed as depressive disorder. And he’s making a public push to raise awareness of mental health conditions in hopes that others can get their own issues addressed sooner than later.

Strathman left college and started a career in education, working his way up to become an elementary school principal at the age of 28. He got married and had two kids. To most of his friends and colleagues, he appeared to have his life together.

In reality, he was struggling. He would experience symptoms of depression on a monthly basis. But because of the stigma he associated with mental health problems, he got good at hiding his pain while on the job.

“Most people wouldn’t have been able to tell that anything was different with me, but I would be just going through the motions,” he said.

He was also self-medicating, relying more and more on alcohol to provide temporary relief from the discomfort of his mental state.

The issues came to a head in January, when he was cited for driving under the influence after leaving the scene of a minor accident in Shawnee. All of a sudden, he was out of his job with the Shawnee Mission School District and facing a personal crisis.

Four months later, however, he says he’s never been in a better place. The accident and citation forced him to address his issues head on. He got diagnosed with both depressive disorder and alcohol use disorder and entered a treatment program.

“I’m not trying to mask it anymore,” he said. “I want people to know that you can get help, you can get professional support, and you can get better.”

In hopes of helping others avoid letting their mental health struggles have a negative impact on their lives, Strathman has launched a new website on which he discusses his own journey and provides information on resources available to those who may be experiencing troubles.

He’s also putting himself out as an “ear to listen,” encouraging people to reach out to him. Additionally, he’s made himself available for public speaking engagements.

Strathman acknowledges life isn’t perfect now. He’s unemployed, and experiences anxiety about how he will support his family.

“I worry about it daily, being a husband and father of two. I want to provide for my family and give them the life they deserve,” he said.

While the eduction field is probably not an option for him at this point, he’s hoping he can use the skills that made him an early success as an administrator in a business setting.

“I know that my six years experience in a leadership role has given me experiences and the skill set to make an impact on any company,” he said.

But, overall, he says, the difficulties he’s gone through recently have given him a new perspective and appreciation.

“You know, my whole career thus far has been about having a positive impact and helping people,” he said. “I’m not going to stop focusing on that.”