Acknowledging you have a mental illness can be difficult, even more so when you have spent your life working as a qualified mental health nurse dedicated to helping others. Herein lies the irony I suppose. In 2004 I experienced severe depression which had been insidiously creeping up on me for many months before. As with most men I was in denial telling myself I could overcome this and that depression only affects others. How wrong I was of course, but isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?
On the advice of my manager I took time off work. I had become a prisoner to my work adopting a masochistic mindset of ‘letting everyone down’ if I was to not be there, such was my unreasonable sense of ‘duty’ and ‘loyalty’. This also proved to be one of the significant ‘stressors’ that had compounded my condition in the end.
Taking time off work and starting on anti depressant medication were both alien to me but the period of time away from the stress of work helped me greatly. It also gave me an opportunity to re evaluate my life and my priorities. It gave me the breathing space necessary to reflect on how I had arrived at that point.
Most of my colleagues and friends were very supportive of my condition and this of course helped, I appreciated that very much. I recall one day walking down stairs with a face etched in pain and sadness and my colleague asking if I was okay. I wasn’t of course but I still lied because I had lost all insight into how ill I had become by then.
I have been quite active in anti stigma work around mental health and following my recovery, my illness became a catalyst for carrying out anti stigma work with more vigour. It whetted my appetite and passion to try and avoid where possible others repeating my mistakes and stigmatising themselves.
When the Time to Change campaign started I knew I wanted to be part of this social movement, it excited me like no other campaign. My career as a mental health nurse, and my personal experience of depression, equipped me with the psychiatric knowledge and personal empathy to try to make a difference for others. I had seen how stigma had ruined people lives and perpetuated many peoples struggles with mental illness.
Soon after, I was interviewed for the role on LEAP ( lived experience advisory panel) covering my native north east of England and successful in acquiring that position. Since then I have been very active in different areas of Time to Change, but mostly the media work.
In many ways Time to Change has changed me. It gave me a clear focus and added impetus to use my skills and experience, and perhaps more importantly my passion, to encourage real change in society. It has given me hope that finally here is a dedicated national campaign to eradicate the scourge of the stigma and discrimination of mental health.
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