DBSA California

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance


Interview of Jo Ann Martin


by Cristina Cabrera

Jo Ann Martin may give the impression of being a rather quiet, reserved person before you get to know her, and for the most part, she is. However, this woman with th soft-spoken voice has accomplished and experienced more in her lifetime than many would have ever imagined.

Jo Ann Martin started the Riverside DBSA in the fall of 1987 and serves as Publisher and Editor in Chief of the Riverside DBSA Newsletter. Jo Ann graciously opens her home to everyone for DBSA meetings and for holiday barbeques and dinners. She has been a friend and great source of support for mental health clients throughout the years

Jo Ann feels that her own experience with mental illness has given her insight and has led her to this point in her life where she can help others. Jo Ann was first diagnosed with manic depression in the early 1960’s (the same year JFK was killed). She had already accomplished a great deal up to that point. She grew up in Lansing, Michigan and at a young age, she discovered her love for music. She began taking piano lessons at age five and enjoyed singing for as long as she can remember. In jr. high, she sang in a girl’s trio.

She went on to college and earned her teaching degree. She married and had a daughter. Her first marriage, however, did not last. Nevertheless, her love for music was constant. Jo Ann was teaching music in a blind school when her depression was diagnosed. She remembers being very depressed and then being manic all summer.

At this time, she began her career as a piano player and singer in nightclubs. She began playing at the Elks club in Iowa and realized immediately that she did not want to stay there long. She went to Atlanta, Georgia, got an agent and played there for three years. When her depression got worse, she went back to her hometown of Lansing, Michigan and stayed with her folks. She was hospitalized for the 2nd time in her life – both were about five week stays. She did not stay with her folks for too long though, because she felt she should be on her own. It was 1972 and she began performing again at the Holiday Inn.

She moved to Detroit and had some really nice singing jobs from 1973 to 1986. She enjoyed this time in her life very much. In her pictures, she looked like a model.

She reminded me of Marlo Thomas because of her look and hairstyles and also her persona. Marlo Thomas was not afraid to embark on a new television show about a single girl living on her own. Jo Ann was independent and creating her own career. She was “That Girl”.

It was in 1983 in Dearborn, Michigan where she started a DBSA group. She had attended a few DBSA meetings in Chicago. She made a five-hour drive to Chicago on Mondays, her night off, for the meetings. The first meeting she attended included only two patients. Shortly after, the meetings grew so large they were held in an auditorium.

Jo Ann was motivated to start a group in Dearborn so that she and others could share their feelings and stories.

Jo Ann found four people from the midland area to share their stories and they put an ad in the paper, asking – “Are you suffering from depression or are you taking lithium?, etc…” The first meeting was held at the Henry Ford Library and twenty-five people attended. Fifty people attended the next meeting. The DBSA group continued to grow and Jo Ann continued to work very hard. She was doing too much and became depressed. Her doctor increased her medication but that didn’t work. Then her doctor prescribed a new medication for her called “desryel”. The combination of lithium and desryel worked and has continued to work great for Jo Ann. Jo Ann notes that because a medication works well for one person does not mean it will work the same for someone else. She kept the DBSA meetings going in Dearborn until 1986, when she moved to California.

By 1986 Jo Ann had met Saul Kent, who would become her husband. She was playing at a club on the outskirts of Detroit when they met. A friend told her she should meet this guy and that he knew a lot about vitamins. Jo Ann had just finished her performance and as she walked toward Saul her opening words were “This gout is really bothering me.” As Jo Ann remembers, she thinks that was a pretty funny opening line, but apparently, it worked! She does have a good sense of humor.

Saul wanted Jo Ann to come with him to California to help him put together a conference he was going to do at the Disneyland Hotel. Jo Ann hated the cold weather in Michigan anyways, so she packed up and left. Jo Ann did the brochure and made all the preparations for the conference. Jo Ann and Saul settled down and bought a home in Riverside, California.

Jo Ann is a compassionate person. She shows kindness for her loved ones and continues to care for her aging mother. Before her mother was unable to travel, Jo Ann took her everywhere with her. She has been a dedicated wife to Saul as he went through cancer treatment three years ago. Jo Ann looks forward to visits from her daughter and her husband. She has a passion for the outdoors and enjoys eating lunch in her garden whenever possible. She is building a small cabin so she can spend more time with nature and she has many ideas, like planting more trees to add to the beauty of her property. She loves the simple things in life.

When I asked her why she has dedicated so much of her time to the DBSA group, she said, “I know, from first hand experience, it’s miserable. But, if you can come out of it and use all of your knowledge to help others, it’s worth it. It’s a gift. I have met some wonderful people that I would have never met if it weren’t for this illness”.