Talking Really Does Help
Stonewall Cymru Director Andrew White talks about his own experience of mental health and how talking helped him break down the barriers surrounding his illness.
11th February 2016, 8.30am | Written by Andrew White
During the past year I have been utterly impressed, and empowered by my wonderful colleagues at Stonewall who have shared their experiences of living with mental health. On World Mental Health Day last year I was able, because of the culture they’ve created, to share my own story with them. The response was overwhelming that in the light of this year’s Time to Talk campaign, I thought I’d use my five minutes to share my story a little wider!
I now know that I have suffered with depression since my early teens but I’ve only really come to understand it during 2015. In January I found myself standing in Cardiff city centre not knowing, literally, where to turn. I’m 44, have a great life, adore my home, family and work yet still I was consumed with a suffocating feeling, a feeling of worthlessness and hopelessness, desperate sadness and to top it all off utter guilt that I should dare to feel this way. I went to a very dark place which my GP would later describe as a ‘catastrophic spiral’.
That day I made what felt like a momentous decision: despite being a typical working class Welsh bloke I decided to speak with my GP, he listened, even shook my hand at the end of our consultation, recommended an app, some therapy, and prescribed some awful to adjust to medication. It was liberating to have a diagnosis. The ability to name my foe has helped me deal with it.
Andrew White, Director of Stonewall Cymru
I wanted to share some key things that have helped break down barriers and #endstigma for me.
Firstly, colleagues and friends who listen: I am fortunate to have a good list of people who just ‘get it’, don’t judge, and who take time every now and again just to check in with a simple ‘how are you doing?' The Time to Change Wales campaign asks people to take five minutes to talk about mental health. Although it was a trending topic on social media throughout the day it’s really important that we don’t forget to take five minutes through the coming days, weeks and months too. How will you use yours?
Secondly, a supportive employer: being able to work for an organisation that understands how crucial it is to recognise their responsibility to the well-being of staff at all levels. If you have any level of influence in your organisation then I’d encourage you to take your five minutes to start the change needed in your workplace, or if you feel you’re in a good place take the time to remind your colleagues.
Thirdly, role models: hearing others talk about their own experiences really helped de-stigmatise mental health for me and I honestly believe saved my life. If you are strong and able enough to share know this: doing so WILL help others! If you want to listen to others' stories and don't know where to start then be sure to check out the wonderful Time to Change Wales campaign blogs.
"I am fortunate to have a good list of people who just ‘get it’, don’t judge, and who take time every now and again just to check in with a simple ‘How are you doing?'"
Finally, I’ve learnt that my depression, or rather living with that depression has actually shaped me in some positive ways. Our programmes at Stonewall encourage people to explore how sexual orientation and gender identity have shaped them or helped bring out certain skills. Living with depression has had a similar influence. I wouldn't recommend it (obviously) but it’s not been all negative, it has allowed me to be cool in a crisis, to smile even in the face some vile situations, and to understand that people I deal with have so many many layers. In some ways I have come to consider my depression as a gift.
Don't get me wrong, I still have bad days but right now things are pretty OK. My advice if you think you might be suffering from depression or any other mental health condition is talk, as difficult as that might seem I can assure you from the other side it beats the hell out of continuing to suffer in silence!
Thank you for taking five to read this and wishing you all positive things.
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