Sometimes, we can’t see what’s getting in the way….
The tragic suicide of Robin Williams last week has been playing on my mind. Not just because it’s meant the world has lost a comical genius and immense acting talent who has both moved us and made us laugh. What has really struck me is that depression – and particularly male depression – is a fight we seem to be losing. I think the statistic that really brought that home to me recently was that according to the BMJ, mental health accounted for 23% of the UK’s “disease burden” but received only 6% of total medical research funding. Cancer, by contrast, accounted for a 15% burden but received 27% of research funding. I’m not suggesting for a second that Cancer should have its research funding cut.
I’m not sure I know what the answer is, but I do feel a compulsion to write this piece as I think that as long as we keep the subject of mental health hidden, as long as we keep it taboo and feel uncomfortable talking about it, this situation is never going to change.
Also, I think that employers have a role to play here which can help create real benefit for both their people and their bottom line. Poor mental health leads to low performance in the workplace and higher rates of absenteeism and staff turn over – both costs which can be minimised. ACAS have put the cost to UK employers at £30 billion per year (you can find out more about the support they offer to employers here).
So, I’m going to do my bit to try peel back the taboo and share my story as I’m now no longer concerned about who might read it and how they might judge me.
I was exposed to mental health in my mid-teens as my father had a severe breakdown due to a number of factors which all resulted in him feeling like he’d let everyone in his life down and he was worthless. Ironically, his break down was something of a turn around in our relationship and when he came out of the other side, we were closer for it. I’m pleased to say he’s been healthy since. While it was incredibly hard to see my father go through that, looking back, I’m grateful for the experience as it helped me develop a healthy understanding around mental health from a relatively early age.
Ok, fast forward to my mid 30’s. I was leading a large engineering operation for Fujitsu. My teams were the last in a long supply chain before equipment arrived on customer site for install so much was riding on our performance – both financially and from a reputation point of view too. I loved the role, it was one I pro-actively lobbied for. However, the pressure grew and grew and my natural ability to bounce-back was being knocked by what I was also experiencing outside work – 6 close bereavements in 12 months and the break up of a relationship.
It was when I was finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning that I started to think things were not right for me. I can also remember an urge to run away from it all and a real sense of dread each and every Sunday night. No matter what I tried to do I couldn’t seem to bounce back. It was then that I can remember asking myself some questions which became the turning point for me. They went like this:
“Do you want things to change?”
“Of course I do”
“Do you feel capable of making that change yourself at the moment?”
“Then what options do you have?”
It was then that I realised I needed help.
I was fortunate as Fujitsu had an excellent employee support service which was my first port of call. I then also talked to my GP and that resulted in a referral to a Psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with depression and started on a combination of medication and therapy. It took 12 months to get back to health and there’s one thing which I think was key to me getting through it. I never took a day off work. I think I was scared to actually as I was frightened the return to work would be so hard – even harder than keeping up with normality.
I know that I will always carry my own “black dog” with me to an extent, but I’m grateful that he came out during those 12 months so I could get to know him and find it easier to spot the signs of him reappearing. Ironically, I now have two real black dogs who are the best antidote to feeling low that anyone could wish for (6 ways pets relieve depression).
I also find it a big help to focus on feeling gratitude regularly – reminding myself of the things in life which I’m thankful for. I recently put together a photo album on Facebook along these lines which I found really cathartic.
The bottom line is that I feel stronger and wiser for having experienced what I have and if someone reads this and decides they want to speak up too then that will be one less brick left in the wall of silence.
My final word I will give to the incredible charity that my former business partner – Nick – is a trustee of – Mandown.co In the UK, 1 man commits suicide every 90 minutes. That’s over 5000 men taking their own lives each year. I’d like to change this and if you’d like to too then give them a click and see how you can help.
Thanks for reading,