I always wanted to be out and about doing things where every day was different, so I joined the fire service. I spent 14 years on one watch in Sheffield – probably the best time of my life.
However, in that period I went to a car crash on the Sheffield Parkway. It was very early one Sunday morning; five kids had been clubbing. Returning home they came down the Sheffield Parkway and crashed.
Generally I'd be the first to provide assistance. I was just one of those people that just got on with it. But when I got to this crash I felt that ‘I don't want to be here’. And that was really unusual for me.
I hung at the back of the fire engine, getting equipment and passing radio messages. I just couldn’t bear to look at this scene and what was inside it.
The mentality in a station is ‘suck it up and get on with it’; ‘we’re heroes not zeros’.
It sort of went away. But it was always in the back of my mind. I went to incidents afterwards and, yes I was fine, so it sort-of self-affirmed that perhaps things would get better.
However over time I could feel it getting worse and worse. I was not the same at work, I engaged less with the people at work and spoke less with them. I had got my head down a lot, just focusing on my work.
There’s that lack of awareness
Things started building up and I went off sick for three or four months with depression. I just wanted to be on me own. I didn’t want to engage with people. There was always a bit of a reluctance to talk to my colleagues.
In terms of talking to people, it's ironic, the time you need them most is the time you don’t want to talk to them.
I think mental health is still is quite a big elephant in the room and difficult to deal with in the work environment.
It makes the conversation difficult, and you can almost feel that you have to throw a line in to change the subject. People are hit by it and don’t know how to react, don’t know what to say and don’t know how to comfort you. There’s that lack of awareness, lack of people talking about it and understanding that it's not something to be feared.
For us to be able to just talk would be fantastic
I can understand that colleagues do find it difficult to talk in workplace because I've been there and I've had the same feelings.
You need somebody to poke you and say, ‘Come on, let’s have a chat.’
I have noticed that I tend to feel better the more I can talk about it and the less it's taboo. And it's surprising once you start talking about it how many people have similar feelings. All at different levels but similar at the same time.
It's not a bad thing, we've all got problems of varying degrees, and we just need to share them. For that stigma to be removed in the workplace and for us to be able to just talk would be fantastic.
For me, personally, talking is a release of tension. To be able to speak to a colleague without fear of them ridiculing me or belittling me; to just say ‘I am normal, I just feel differently at the moment’, and for them to accept that is just such a relieving situation to be in. You can feel yourself getting more confident in the workplace as more people understand.
We need to create a more open culture
We need to create a more open culture, of being able to come up to your mate at work and say ‘I just didn’t enjoy that’, you know, ‘it didn’t go well for me, I didn’t like this, I didn’t like that’, and for them to not belittle that and to not make light of it, but to generally take on board what you're saying.
For that open culture to be there to be able to do that, it would be fantastic.