June 13, 2012

Photo of Tim, a Time to Change bloggerStatistics say one in four people will suffer mental health problems in any given year. To put that into perspective, that’s maybe half a dozen work colleagues, four members of your rugby team and a couple of close family members. And if you’ve got 200 friends on Facebook, well that’s fifty of them.

Yet how many people do you know who suffer? Unless you happen to work in mental health, I’ll guarantee it’s a lot less than that.

The reason for this is that most people choose to suffer in silence. They are afraid that others will perceive them as weak, or they’re ashamed and racked with guilt for feeling that way.

A lot of mental health problems have trauma as a starting point. Mine was in 2006 when my sister took her own life. I remember the phone call like it was yesterday. We were estranged at the time and guilt stemming from that took over my life and engulfed me.

I had my own construction firm, a great relationship and a good life- bit by bit the depression dismantled everything, and still I didn’t seek help. When I had my first breakdown two years ago, my way of dealing with things was to shut myself away in the house, alone, with the curtains drawn. I stopped answering the phone.

How could I, a six foot four eighteen stone ex-rugby player be so weak?

I was ashamed of myself for feeling the way I did, filled with guilt for letting everyone down and I felt worthless and less of a man. How could I, a six foot four eighteen stone ex-rugby player be so weak? I went to some dark places which four months later led me to attempt suicide.

Because I didn’t let anyone in and hardly nobody knew what had happened, I managed to brush it under the carpet and get on with my life without seeking the treatment I needed. After the inevitable second breakdown I started to get some clarity on the situation. I knew I needed to let people in to share my experiences.

I spoke about some of my experiences on Facebook

It started off as a self-preservation thing- I thought if it was out in the open and the people around me knew what I was going through, and were asking me about it, I would be compelled to get the help I needed. So after some soul-searching, I spoke about some of my experiences on Facebook.

The response was overwhelming- the support I received made me realise that mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of and I didn’t need to suffer in silence.

friends who had mental health problems but had kept them to themselves shared their experiences with me

And unexpectedly, friends who had mental health problems but had kept them to themselves shared their experiences with me. A lot of friends. Which brings us full circle to the one in four. And I hope that those people that opened up found it as cathartic as I did. I have a long way to go, but I’m feeling positive about the future for the first time in a long time.

So please, if you know someone who is struggling, a kind word or a hug can go a long way. Don’t feel awkward or embarrassed about talking to us. And if you are suffering, you need to talk too. Open up to people. It’s hard to expose yourself mentally at first, but it’s the best thing I ever did.

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