November 19, 2014

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My name is Andy. I have been a Time to Change champion for five years. Andy's Depression Blog

Eight years ago, I was the Head Teacher at a primary school. But then I had a breakdown and (following a very traumatic year) was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

From the top of the plinth, I had to retire on health grounds. Over the last eight years I have struggled to come to terms with my illness and my place in the world.

If a statue falls and is broken into many pieces it is those who are closest that try to put it back together again.

I liken my illness to a sculpture made from plaster; I thought I was the finished article but plaster is very fragile and easily broken.

We are often defined by what we do, not who we are. When you can no longer do what you used to you thrash around trying to justify your existence. No more so than in the eyes of your family.

If a statue falls and is broken into many pieces it is those who are closest that try to put it back together again.

Andy Depression Self Portrait

A self portrait painted during my illness.

I am married and at the time of my of my ‘shattering,’ I had two children at university, two at secondary school and a five year old. My wife and mother in-law were terrific: they had been there and got the t-shirt!

There was no judgement; no sense of failure; no ‘pull yourself together’, just a listening ear and encouragement.

The children were concerned, but happy that dad was now doing the cooking!

Although I was a carer for my daughters and my sons, I am sure life was difficult for them. They never showed it, at least not to me.

I think my wife has sheltered a lot of it from them. My extended family made frequent phone calls offering concern; my brother was worried that I would decline deeper and deeper into myself.

I suppose I did and at the time had to.

A couple of years ago I made a film with my wife for Mental Health First Aid and I watched my wife being filmed, talking about how she had supported me. She also said how it had affected her; this was the first time I had heard this and I found it very upsetting.

A journey through depression

A Journey through Depression

With depression you become like a rubber mould for plaster of Paris, turned inside out not really recognisable. You are still you, but different. Recovery is slow, like pouring plaster, easily disturbed and broken. But in time you set and your beauty can again be revealed when the mould is peeled back, a little fragile but it’s you.

The support of family is great, but my illness became theirs. Although they were there for me, they needed support too.

I thought that my work colleagues felt a little let down, as they depended on me and I had somehow let them down. I never heard this said, but perhaps acknowledgement to the contrary would have been helpful.

Although it’s been tough (and still is at times) my wife and I both agree that our relationship is stronger. I hope I am a better dad than I was, although only my children can answer that!

Andy's top tips for supporting someone with mental health problems

  • Families: be there, listen, encourage, and try not to be judgemental. Time is a great healer, but most importantly look after yourselves as well.
  • Friends can be a great help, but often they don’t know what to say. This is why campaigns such as Time to Change are vital. Education and an understanding of what to say and do, and a sense of empathy comes through knowledge, not necessarily from experience.
  • Friends: keep in touch. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t want to see you but be gently persistent. (Get our top tips for talking about mental health)
  • Colleagues, keep in touch even if through a carer. You can be positive and encouraging, find out about the illness but don’t try to be the answer to the problems. Most importantly, give them time. The majority of people who experience mental health difficulties come out the other side or learn how best to manage their lives.

I am now one of the ten Voices of Mind, campaigning for MPs to put mental health high on the agenda:

Something good usually comes out of the bad, the new plaster sculpture is a better image of the former self (but I will leave it up to you to be the judge of this!)

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