February 12, 2015

I wasn't very popular with Lang, my wife, on Thursday morning – Time to Talk Day. She very much likes being in bed. We'd gone to sleep quite late on Wednesday night, and got up rather early. While she's never genuinely grumpy, she was perhaps on the spiky side of placid on Thursday. This was made worse when we realised I'd got the time of our taxi wrong, and we'd got up half an hour earlier than necessary.

We're media volunteers for Time to Change 

Our early morning taxi was part of our journey to the ITV studios on the Thames. We're media volunteers for Time to Change, and were to feature on This Morning, talking about my mental health and how Lang supports me. It wasn't really a taxi though, or a minicab - it was "a car". It turns out that media people - as we now are - get cars. "Shall we send a car to pick you up?". Rather odd. But hugely appreciated.

On arrival, we were shown to the green room. We met a fellow guest, Dr Dawn, who'd be adorning the famous sofa with us, chipping in to our story with her professional opinion. Lang was required for 45 minutes in the makeup room, and emerged like a beautiful butterfly, albeit an insect so heavily weighed down under foundation and hairspray as to render flight completely unfeasible. My face only warranted five minutes of attention.  You can't improve on perfection, but apparently you can stop it shining under the studio lights.

My wife emphasised the need for carers to look after their own mental wellbeing

We spent eight minutes in conversation with Phillip Schofield and Christine Bleakley, who must have the most perfect teeth that the world has ever seen. We spoke about my depression, which started with a semi-spectacular breakdown in 2008. I was ill for probably eight months, and at my worst was very unwell indeed; crippling anxiety, hours crying and daily suicidal thoughts. We spoke about how I'd felt unable to talk to anyone, or be open about the initial symptoms, until it was too late. And how that's a fairly common approach, particularly amongst men; there's a fear of admitting this 'weakness' and self-stigmatising. During the interview, Lang emphasised the importance of being as open as possible, and talking about mental health in the same way we would a physical injury or illness. And the need for carers to look after - and sometimes prioritise - their own mental wellbeing.

It's OK to talk about mental health 

I was very lucky. I was able to access talking treatment through my work, and I had an understanding GP, who was able to prescribe medication that worked for me. I recognised the importance of exercise, and did as much as I could. And Lang was phenomenally kind, patient and understanding. I've made a full recovery. While I've had another couple of minor mental health wobbles, I've recognised the symptoms reasonably early, spoken to my new boss, taken time off work when I need to, and generally been kind to myself. And - having tried both approaches - I can fully recommend the 'being open' option. It's ok to talk about mental health. You can see the programme here.

People have been phenomenally supportive

The response to our interview has been awesome. We've done some media volunteering before - I've been on Radio Five and TalkSport, and we've done an interview with the Sun on Sunday magazine. But nothing quite prepared us for this. People have been phenomenally supportive, and it's been - in a good way - overwhelming. Me and Lang mentioned our appearance on Facebook, and we received around 600 emails, calls, texts, likes and comments - all positive. It's been quite remarkable.

It's like there are positive ripples from us speaking out

We've been most touched by a friend saying that as a result of the programme, he's recognised that he needs to talk to someone about his mental health. Another friend publically disclosed for the first time: "I'm going to talk. I suffer from depression and anxiety. The depression is under control, the anxiety mostly" - and she immediately received messages of support. One of her friends replied "I'm going to talk too hon! I too suffer with terrible anxiety. Seeing a doctor on Monday - but already feel better just saying out loud that I struggle with it". It's early days, but we really hope that being open is a helpful and positive experience for them both. A third friend was inspired to write a wonderful blog about her experience of - and slow recovery from - depression and anorexia. People at work have been hugely positive too, and we’re talking about changes we can make to ensure we’re modelling best practice in mental health in the workplace.  It's like there are positive ripples from us speaking out, spreading through our network of friends, family and colleagues.

I decided that I'd always be open and honest about my breakdown, and that I'd talk about it when I thought it might be helpful. It's been easy for us - my mental health is really good now, and we don't have the pressure of managing an ongoing condition. And many people don't feel able to be as open as we've been, perhaps because employers, friends or family aren't as understanding as they could be. And that's why it's such a privilege for us to be able to talk about our experience, and - hopefully, and in a small way - contribute to building the momentum around changing attitudes to mental health. It's good to talk.

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