Why is it still considered brave to talk openly about your mental health issues?

mental health depression

I don’t recall the exact year, I do know that it was somewhere around 1983. I was working as part of a small team of engineers maintaining a telephone exchange located close to Moorgate in the City of London.

One day we were informed that we would have somebody new joining the team. I’m not entirely sure why Jim joined us, I don’t recall there being a position vacant at the time. The image that I have in my mind of him is still so clear to this day; tall, gangly, dark hair parted in the centre and glasses. I’m not sure what it was about Jim but I never felt as though he quite fitted in. He felt quite close to me; we performed similar roles so would work together and quite often we’d spend a lunch break playing snooker or darts.

It didn’t feel like he was with us for very long but I remember arriving at work one morning to be told that Jim had taken his life.

That never registered with me. I could never understand why Jim or anyone for that matter would choose to take their own life. That was until 2012 when I found myself experiencing those same feelings.

In July of this year I chose to leave that company. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say in the farewell email that I’d send to my colleagues. I wanted to say more than a simple ‘thank you’, I wanted it to be of some value.

I’d managed to get through my depression in 2012 with the aid of antidepressant medication. In 2017 I started to notice those same feelings that I’d experienced in 2012. I knew that I needed to act but I didn’t want to go back onto medication; I needed an alternative.

The company I worked for take mental health seriously and they offered a completely confidential service that provided access to mental health professionals. I took advantage of the service and following a number of visits to a practitioner and the implementation of a daily mindfulness meditation routine those feelings began to subside. My mental health improved to the point where I didn’t need any medication.

In my farewell email I wanted to draw attention to the confidential service. It wasn’t widely publicised and I’d only come across it following a search of the internal internet. I wanted to let my colleagues know that it existed and to that end I related the story of my mental health challenges.

The responses that I received to that email were surprising on two counts. Firstly, I was surprised by the number of colleagues who contacted me with their own personal experiences around dealing with mental health. Secondly I was surprised by the number of responses that used the word ‘brave’ to acknowledge what I’d done.

Why brave? – My belief is that this stems from the social stigma that surrounds mental health that, in itself, leads to prejudice and discrimination. It is one reason why mental health isn’t openly discussed and why a person is considered to be brave when they choose to open up and talk about their experiences.

Until society views mental illness in the same way that it views illnesses related to any other part of the human body then we will always need ‘brave’ people to share their stories. You’ll find many personal stories and useful information about mental health at https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/

My Farewell Email

Hi,

I’ve never been the sort of person to stay in the same job for too long so after 41 years and 10 months I’m leaving BT and moving on to something new.

It was way back in 1986 when I started working with Trading Systems. I remember my first call-out as an engineer like it was yesterday: Dresdner Bank in Old Jewry – one CBS trading position not working. Fairly simple you would think but within 30 minutes of me arriving on site they had two CBS positions not working and I was frantically paging colleagues for assistance.

Of course I got support immediately and within minutes I had another engineer onsite showing me where I’d gone wrong. That supportive attitude has remained within trading systems to this day and truly defines to me what this group is and what it stands for. There are so many of you that I’ve reached out to over the years for assistance and it has always been there and for that I want to say a huge thank you.

I’m not sure if there’s a prize for the weirdest farewell email but strap yourselves in because this is about to get weird!

In 2012 I had an extended period of sick leave. I was suffering from acute depression. Life had become pointless and I didn’t want to be around anymore and I didn’t need to be – I served no purpose. I could end it all and sure there would be a period of mourning but the world would carry on perfectly well without me in it.

Well the medication worked and I’m still here but I came away with the realisation that it’s only a small step between not wanting to exist and not existing and an appreciation of why people choose to take their own lives.

At the start of 2017 I began to notice the same early signs of depression again. But this time was different, this time I knew where I’d gone wrong. First time round I thought I could manage by myself – I didn’t need to tell anyone how I was feeling or talk to anyone – I could sort it out myself. The truth is, I couldn’t.

In praise of BT, they do take mental health seriously and they offer (at least in the UK) a confidential and free service where you can meet with a specialist. So, last year I took advantage of BT’s offer and had a number of sessions with a mental health specialist. Just going through those sessions and talking (together with a daily exercise) was enough to ensure that my path into depression didn’t go any further. And, continuing with the exercises means that I’m in a much better place now.

I didn’t need to tell you all of this but I did. Look out for each other, check in on each other and if you’re experiencing any of the signs of depression then talk to somebody, a close friend, a relative, the confidential service offered by BT or even me. Just don’t think that you can fix it by yourself.

See, I warned you that it was a weird way of signing off but if I can help one person by relating my short story then it has been worth it.

My last day here is 26th July. I’m not sure what I’m going to do once I leave BT (boring people with my life stories possibly) but trading systems people do have a habit of popping up again so maybe we’ll have the chance of working together again in the future.

How does one sign off after 41 years and 10 months – kind regards or best wishes maybe. For me it’s with love. It has been an honour and a privilege to have worked alongside you. I wish trading systems (and command & control 😉 ) every success for the future.

Jerry x

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