Here we go then with my first Blog for Time To Change Wales. It’s been a year now since my diagnosis of severe depression - despite it being something I’ve dealt with for far longer.

But that’s beside the point. Since we welcomed in the New Year, I’ve decided to speak up to end the stigma surrounding mental health, both in society and in the work place.

Incidentally, this week I will give my first of what I hope will be many group discussions on the very issue of mental health. It’s something I’m looking forward to, if not with a little trepidation. What prompted this? A couple of weeks ago my boss approached me while I was experiencing a ‘downer’. Indeed, she gave me support and wanted to know how she could help.

It made up my mind - not only to step up and help myself but, most importantly, help others. Later in the week my boss agreed to my wish to hold a group discussion/ presentation for my colleagues on mental health. It’s something they’re looking forward to as well - undoubtedly it will help them relate to not only me but inevitably the many more people in their lives, if not them themselves, who experience mental health issues to some degree.

What will I say to them? In essence, having a mental health issue is akin to any physical illness. It should be treated - and it should be recognised. Yet, quite rightly, it is also very different to many physical illnesses in the manner that there may not be a timescale for recovery. We all have highs, we all have lows - but when dealing with depression, these can be more accentuated. Hopefully I can convey this to them, and educate them that this is indeed something that I, and the millions of others with depression, will ultimately learn to live with.

Many may not understand depression until they themselves have experienced it, but this doesn’t necessarily matter. What does is the understanding of those who do have mental health issues. There are just a small number of things that can be done to brighten a person’s day - sending a text asking ‘How are you?’ for instance. The likelihood is the person receiving the text won’t be looking for counselling, but just recognition that they’re not alone.

In essence, having a mental health issue is akin to any physical illness. It should be treated - and it should be recognised

It’s a theme that when stepping back, you can see replicated in many other scenarios. Let’s take a Monday morning in the office. David comes into work late, feeling under pressure and generally very down - he’s withdrawn. He may not need his boss asking a million questions - it may simply take allowing him five minutes out - to do some mindful exercises for instance. In reality, what doesn’t work for one person, may work for another.

And that is where the stigma begins for many. How many times have we heard the phrase, “you’ve got to snap out of this”? The reality is it is so much more. Making somebody understand the ins and outs of why you are in the situation you are, may be defeating the object. That is what the experts are there for. What we need from our family, our friends and our colleagues is the understanding and the knowledge that they are there for us, and that in return we will be there for them.

We’re all individuals- we’re all different. But one thing I’m sure we all want is happiness. How we get there, and how we motivate ourselves to do so is another story. What my talk to my colleagues this week will aim to do is convey this message, and I implore you, if you have the strength to do so, to do the same. Let others ask questions, let them feel comfortable around the issue, and help end the stigma.

So, deep breath - I’ll let you know how it goes!


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