Like tens of thousands of people in Wales I have suffered from depression and anxiety. The episodes of depression have been infrequent and usually related to adverse experiences that can hit any of us in the course of life.
My vulnerability to anxiety has been more constant and I am still recovering from the last significant episode, although I now feel much more resilient and generally confident about my mental wellbeing. Key to recovery was my decision to seek treatment, in this case counselling that was available at my GP’s surgery.David Melding AM with TTCW
I sometimes describe anxiety to friends as the feeling one had when sitting important exams- only magnified. There is a tenseness, muddied concentration, and a hypervigilance against things suddenly going wrong. And of course a sense that whatever goes wrong will be YOUR! fault. Only the feeling is constant and does not disappear a few minutes into the exam. It is physically exhausting. You have little sense of proportion and life’s routine trials and tribulations become daunting. When these anxious feelings interrupt everyday life- going out, driving the car, turning up for work, or whatever else- it is time to seek treatment.
Too many of us do not seek treatment soon enough and needlessly suffer in silence. We feel embarrassed, frightened, or just weak as if it were not normal to be ill. There are still not enough role models to encourage us to seek out help- although more people now talk candidly about mental distress. So I am delighted to do my little bit for the Time to Change Wales campaign.
Many of you might well think my career choice a little odd. After all, politicians are supposed to be bright, breezy and confident people. Actually I have rarely found my public role the most challenging part of life even when ill. Interacting with people was usually a tonic and reduced some of my symptoms of anxiety. Speaking in the Senedd was a lot tougher- but even that I managed without obvious difficulty. Yet I experienced little ease of living and the strain and exhaustion never left me. One positive outcome of my experiences of mental distress has been the sense of mission it has given me to raise these issues in the Assembly.
As far as we know our brains are the most sophisticated biological entities in the universe. Their power and complexity allow us to live remarkable and creative lives. It is little wonder that for some of us mental distress can be a side-effect of this biological wonder. One of the greatest advances of recent decades has been a deeper understanding of mental illness. Thankfully this has led also to better treatments including talking therapies and more effective medications. Even more important has been the realisation that mental illness is like illness in general – a normal and natural event amenable to treatment and often cure.
David Melding is the Deputy Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales and Member for South Wales Central.