There probably hasn’t been a week that has gone by without someone thanking me for telling my story. They want to thank me because it helped them have the confidence to start a conversation about mental illness.
The days leading up to the debate in the Assembly when the four of us shared our experiences were quite nervous for me. I had no idea what to expect.
What effect would it have on me emotionally? How would other people respond to me telling my story?
Speaking publicly about my mental illness is one thing. Telling those closest to me that I was going to do so was probably even more difficult.
Some of them, my parents included, were hearing for the first time that I had suffered depression and that I had struggled for a long time to keep my illness a secret before eventually seeking and receiving help to get better. That in itself was probably quite a big deal for them. But then to realise that I would be telling everyone else and talking about my illness in the Assembly, in public, on telly and radio was probably even more of a shock.
Then came the big day. The blog was ready, my speech was ready – but was I ready? Would I hold it together? The morning kicked off with a few radio interviews. Twelve months on I can still remember my voice cracking slightly during a Radio Wales interview. It was a dry throat, but I was petrified that people might think I was breaking down. TV interviews followed and phone calls from journalists were fielded and then the moment came to stand up and speak in the Assembly chamber.
As I was getting to my feet I expected to feel like the proverbial rabbit caught in the headlights with the glare of public scrutiny magnifying my every breath and every word. But strangely, the overriding sensation was very, very different. As I got into my stride I realised that the focus wasn’t particularly on me, or the four individuals who were sharing our experiences. I could feel the whole National Assembly coming together in an expression of support for everyone who has, was or is suffering mental illness.
The messages of support that followed were overwhelming. There probably hasn’t been a week that has gone by without someone thanking me for telling my story. They want to thank me because it helped them have the confidence to start a conversation about mental illness. Either to tell someone about their own experience or to discuss mental illness with a friend, a relative or work colleague.
Some of them I know well, and I never imagined that they had suffered from mental illness – but that’s probably exactly what they thought about me until twelve months ago! Others are faces I recognise and many I have never met before.
Today, I no longer shy away from talking about my depression. Every time I talk about it, either casually as it comes up in conversation or more formally in talks to groups or conferences, it makes me stronger. It helps give me a clearer perspective on that period in my life.
I’m so glad that I have spoken openly about my experience of depression. People don’t think twice about talking about their physical health and mental health should be no different. The experience has made me even more determined to do all that I can to help tackle any stigma or discrimination head on. After all, it’s time to change.
Llyr Huws Gruffydd is a Member of the Welsh Assembly for the North Wales region. He spoke about his own experiences of depression in a debate in the Senedd in November 2012.
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