Over the last 4 years I have had two episodes of clinical depression. In August last year I was admitted for 4 weeks to an inpatient unit due to the seriousness of my symptoms. The reason I want to share this is that it’s so important that we feel able to talk to our managers and colleges about our mental well being without fear of being viewed as somehow “not able to cope” or in some way incapable.
A conservative estimate is that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem in our lives, so the chances are that all of us will either experience one ourselves or have a loved one who will.
I myself have worked for Social Services for the last 21 years, initially as a support worker in a Community Mental Health Team. After I was fortunate enough to be seconded on an employment based Masters Degree course in Social Policy, I then stayed at the CMHT as a qualified Social Worker, and then as an Approved Social Worker where I was responsible for using the Mental Health Act to help clients who needed assessment to consider whether admission to hospital was required to support them and keep them safe. I eventually became manager of the team, and then moved on to Safeguarding work and more recently I have been working in the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards team.
I’ve been back at work since mid January and am pleased to say that my recovery has gone really well since Christmas. The support I received from the mental health services both in the community and in hospital was outstanding, and I continue to benefit from the skilled support from the community team.
My family were and are central to my recovery, and having a wonderful wife, two lovely daughters, supportive and loving parents and siblings made all the difference in helping me to hold onto what really matters. I also know that without the love and friendship from my mates I don’t think my family and I would have come through this.
My close friends (and I’m so lucky to have some) were amazing at keeping in touch with me whilst I was in hospital. I couldn’t bring myself to see many of them, as I was so low and my self esteem so shot, that I didn’t feel I deserved their friendship. Consequently I only really felt able to see my brother and oldest friend whilst I was in hospital. They took turns visiting along with my wife and set up a rota so I had regular visits, and I gradually became able to have some leave with their support. This was central to my recovery, as were the ongoing texts and calls from friends and colleges who never stopped getting in touch even though my responses were brief. They tolerated the long pauses over the phone, or delayed responses to their texts encouraging me to hang in there, and reminding me of the person that I really was when I was not so unwell.
When I did get discharged I continued to struggle with a very low mood, but again my friends kept getting in touch. Another old mate who was temporarily between jobs made a point of coming over and taking me out for walks with his dog. Stomping through the bridle paths of Surrey in the freezing cold, doing his best at speaking for both of us as I struggled to get more than two words out whilst I just despaired of ever being “me” again or ever being able to work again.
From October until past Christmas, I remained much the same, and then in the New Year I started to feel better, and for a number of reasons, I started to feel like myself again. I believe it was a combination of medication, Acceptance Commitment Therapy and having been able to spend time with my family and friends over the holidays, that somehow led me to feel OK or acceptable as opposed to feeling racked with guilt for the four months that had preceded this.
I also know that it was the tireless dedication of my mates and family that helped pull me back to my feet again.
I’ve been back at work since mid January and continue to be supported by the Community Mental Health Team. I plan to stay well and I’m developing a Wellness Recovery Action Plan, so I’ll be better prepared in case I experience another episode, in the hope that I can recognise the symptoms earlier and take action to avoid becoming so unwell again.
I’m aware that it seems to be every 4 years that this happens to me, so I’m a little bit nervous about the Tokyo Olympics’ in 2020, but I’m hopeful that I will be able to enjoy watching them a bit more than I did for RIO 2016.
If you know someone who's struggling or is acting differently – be a friend to them. Reach out. Trust me, it will make a difference.