Why is it still considered brave to talk openly about your mental health issues?
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.
As part of the volunteering work that I do I was fortunate to be able to attend a half-day mental health awareness training session provided by MHFA England. I would encourage all businesses to take advantage of the services offered by MHFA England.
Mental ill health is responsible for the loss of 91 million working days every year costing UK employers £34.9 billion.
MHFA England’s training courses teach people to spot the signs of mental health issues, offer initial help and guide a person towards support. Their two-day course will train employees to become mental health first aiders. Their half-day course will benefit all employees, giving them sufficient knowledge to be able to look after themselves and look out for each other.
Global Support Resource
The good people over at Happy Happy Vegan have taken the time to put together a global list of Mental Health Helplines, Suicide Hotlines, and Depression Advice Centers.
If you need someone to talk to or you’re seeking advice then please have a look at this useful and detailed resource.