It feels like I’ve always been talking about mental health. It didn’t start with a doctor, looking at reasons, symptoms, meds and so on. It started with a counsellor in university. That was 25 years ago and it did nothing to help me.

Knowing what I know now, had a more effective talking service been available to me from the age of 18 my life could have been quite different. At 25 I started to feel things going downhill. It was the first time I’d seen a GP about what I was experiencing. I was taken through the depression inventory test and given a prescription. Again, it was another largely unhelpful experience for talking about my mental health.

Immediately after that, I told my then employer who was incredibly supportive. It’s something that I’ve held onto ever since; as it’s given me the confidence to go on and do all the things I’ve done in the mental health arena. It’s given me the freedom to start countless conversations about mental health, with friends and family, work colleagues and many others. It’s helped me to learn more about my own issues, not that I’ve always been able to put that into practice though. It has been a largely positive experience, but also difficult at times, as you do come up against some resistance and uncertainty, while some of us are on the receiving end of ignorance. I’ve met so many people on this thing we call a mental health journey, that talking about it is now second nature to me.

I’ve also enabled people to have conversations about mental health via other means – art. In developing projects, events and festivals, participants and audience members have undoubtedly explored their own mental health through the arts, or have been inspired to have a conversation about mental health based on what they’ve seen, heard or become immersed in. We need to be creative in providing opportunities for mental health conversation.

If I could have somehow mustered the energy to talk, when in such an awful state, I might have got the support I needed sooner.

If you have the energy and the will, fight the fight by talking. If you find yourself saying ‘I’ a lot, in terms of ‘I did this’ and ‘I said that’, then it makes total sense. Without you, these conversations wouldn’t happen. It’s pointless wishing someone would say the things that are on the tip of your tongue. Even if your palms are clammy and your insides are churning, little by little you will get stronger at making your point about mental health. Campaigns such as Time to Change Wales are there to help you. I’ve been a Champion for a number of years, with a recent experience of talking to union reps at Tata Steel in Port Talbot and Llanwern. It wasn’t simply a case of sharing my story; it was also about changing attitude which was certainly achieved.

I can be a gobby so-and-so sometimes, because of the jobs I’ve done, but you’re doing something special, which is hard to measure, by having conversations about mental health with people in all sorts of situations. Normalise the misunderstood, the stigmatised, and the sometimes feared. This has certainly been the case at the Wales Co-operative Centre, where I’ve worked since 2007. It’s an incredibly supportive employer, starting with our Chief Exec, down through our HR team, managers and other colleagues. We have an excellent workplace culture on mental health and wellbeing.

While the services I’ve accessed through the NHS have gone from horrendous to fairly good, I’m not here to criticise, as I understand the dilemma that we all find ourselves in. I do, however, think we’re missing a trick by not having a system or funding in place that offers counselling services in every GP practice. I know why we’re so short on resources, and why so much pressure is placed on service provision, but think of the difference that would make.

Ok, this is the hardest part…..I think the only times I didn’t talk about my mental health are the occasions when I’ve tried to end my life. I went quiet, became withdrawn and didn’t tell anyone until after the event. If I could have somehow mustered the energy to talk, when in such an awful state, I might have got support sooner. Afterwards, I’d never talked so much about my mental health in such a short space of time. I talked to my sister, friends, colleagues, my private therapist, Samaritans, my CMHT and the local crisis team all in the space of 48 hours. I’d rather not go back there though, and space the conversations out a bit! If nothing else, it made me realise just how good my support network is, and that is simply invaluable.

My final piece of advice is to be passionate, of course, but to find balance. I became so obsessed with talking about mental health that I’d almost forgotten everything else that I was about. Remember the other things that interest you in life, and continue to pursue them.  If you don’t, you might become too absorbed in the issue, that it becomes you and that’s not necessarily a healthy position to be in.

I hope you have a positive experience on Time to Talk Day. This old mental health talking veteran will be thinking about you.

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