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- Who has seen Toy Story 4…?!
Running with a black dog – Part 2 – “The Depression Years” and Prevention
My wife and I have learnt from my depression and become so much stronger and our 18 year relationship the best it has ever been. Depression is debilitating on the patient, but also can be cruel and damaging to the family of that person.
I can’t change a single day of the “depression years”, but I can use it as guide to ensure I love more positively and understand myself better as a person, a father, a husband and a friend.
There is hope and there is help and an awful lot of love to be embraced. I am lucky – I have a brilliant GP, a beautiful, close and loving family and a great network of friends and supportive colleagues. I have been able to change the way I live my life. For me there is no stigma. I had bad asthma as a child and I spoke about that. If I broke a bone you would ask me how I was and the story behind it.
How Did My Depression Exist?
I have been deliberate and outspoken of my illness to people. Many people, including close friends, have been shocked by the news. They didn’t know. “You hid that well!” has been a common response. I never felt like I was hiding it. I thought it was evident. My view on it now is that an illness almost became another character trait and formed part of my personality. It shouldn’t have got that far…
I truly, secretly hoped that someone would look in my eyes and tell me what was wrong and help me and fix the problem. Nobody ever did, except for my GP late last year. I had taken my poorly 3 year old daughter to see him and he asked what was wrong with her. I explained. He then looked me in the eye and said: “And we will have a chat afterwards”. I was taken aback. I knew he knew as I had been in bed for the previous two days, suffocated by the weight of the black dog of depression. The effort it took to take my daughter there was enormous. I was exhausted just by the thought of standing up. Leaving the house and having to face people and decisions was crippling. I made it there anyway as I needed treatment for my daughter. Having to think of others in your darkest moments is a beautiful gift, although it never feels like it at the time of course. I took my GP’s comment as the clarion call I had so wished for. (This is a great example of depressed people being unable to help themselves, the kindness of strangers is invaluable.)
This bout of depression had worried me more than any other. It wasn’t the worse by any stretch but having turned 40 years old recently, I became more aware of the passing of time! Any long term damaged caused could become harder to resolve with each passing year. I didn’t want to sink further down and not be able to get myself out of it. I didn’t want to make it worse. So what was this? Self-appreciation? Concern for own wellbeing? This was interesting. I wanted to get better.
Even more importantly, if you know someone who is struggling, please help them to seek professional help.
If you can, please help support the great work of The Matthew Elvidge Trust to help change and save the lives of young people in the UK.
But now I want to move the agenda from intervention for people experiencing problems…. to prevention…. and the role of schools, as well as colleges, universities, the workplace and Job Centres. This is a subject very close to my heart!
In our journey over the last five years we have learnt a great deal about neuroscience and how the brain works in different life situations… how the chemistry changes and how this affects the way we feel, behave and relate to others…..neurotransmitters and so on.
The fact that emotions take over and the logical part of the brain shuts down…..a real danger point.
It must be because people just don’t understand….or rather….and here is the crucial point…..they haven’t been given the chance to understand.
So how can we normalize mental health, which is so closely linked to physical health and so important to everyone.
Well my sense is that the very best way to help everyone understand about the important role that health….mental health and emotional wellbeing has to play in our lives is to learn at school……staff, parents, pupils…..together.
We need to have health….social and emotional wellbeing at the heart of the ethos and culture of our education system, so that we change the language and get people talking about their mental health alongside their physical health…..talk about how they are feeling, know what the signs are if they are not feeling good……know how to spot signs in one other…..
We need young people to understand how to keep mentally well…be taught all the tools and skills they need to cope with life’s ups and downs, whether its mindfulness, resilience, character, problem solving, building relationships and more…
If we did this we would have more people keeping well….. and more people seeking help, especially men, as mental health would be OK to talk about….rather like cancer is now after so many decades of stigma.
And the same principle applies to colleges, universities, employers and Jobcentres.
This way we will have more people like Matthew and the other 33,000 people that have taken their own life since he died:
- towards the right hand side of the continuum for longer periods
- fewer people needing interventions
- more people seeking help earlier and, most importantly
- fewer people taking their own life.
In other words…fewer people will die by suicide……
And let’s give our children the knowledge, understanding and skills to keep on the right hand side of the continuum…. and the confidence to ask for help when they need it……in the knowledge that it will be there at the right time.
To read more about the Matthew Elvidge Trust and the work they do click here.