Many people know I live with depression. I have struggled with alcohol too and like millions of others, I face a daily battle to even get out of bed. People talk of ‘mental health episodes’: what happens when things spiral and consume. I have had five.
Episode one: ‘It’s a blip’
The first real episode happened when out with friends in the summer of 2001, at the local bowling alley. I have no idea why it happened. I wasn’t feeling ‘down’ or miserable, I was enjoying a night out. Toward the end of the night out I just sat down outside and started crying while mumbling something that none of my friends understood. They helped me home and over the following few days I just tried to bat it off as nothing until I “felt better”.
Episode two: Relationships, debt, rage and disguise
June 2005. I had spent a day at the cricket with friends, then went for a curry. On getting home I realised I had lost my mobile phone and started to get angry with myself, eventually imploding into a tearful rage. This rage degenerated into a full blown breakdown. I was at the time living back with my parents after rattling up thousands of pounds of debt, mainly from a failed relationship. I was also under stress due to relentless workplace bullying from my line managers, which despite a complaint being lodged was not resolved and the blame being placed on me.
My step-dad held onto me to stop me from walking out of the house and doing something ‘daft’. A doctor was called who wanted to section me under the mental health act but my mom as nearest relative said no as she would look after me. I wasn’t prescribed any medication or mood stabilisers and went back to work only a week after this episode at a time when there was a lack of recognition for mental health issues. The ‘excuse’ I gave for the time off was a stomach bug.
Episode three: Breakdown, diagnosis and mood enhancers
April 2009. I was still in the same employment as 2005 — with the same bullying manager — but had become a trade union rep and branch officer. I was also planning my wedding to my future wife Justina. The episode followed a stressful period organising a wedding, with in-laws who wanted to take control. The period was made worse by the most despicable piece of workplace bullying you could imagine, where managers blatantly lied to try and get me the sack. I honestly thought I was losing my job and my wedding would have to be cancelled.
The outcome of all of this weight on me was a full blown breakdown. I managed to drive home despite crying uncontrollably. I phoned my wife at work but have no recollection of what was said. My wife called my mother who came to find the front door wide open and her son cowering in the corner of the bedroom on the floor, crying and mumbling incoherently (I only know this as I was told). The Doctor was called and I was given diazepam to settle me. At that time it was thought best that I wasn’t sectioned: home rest would be best, but with me accessing counselling and therapy. It was then that I was officially diagnosed as living with depression and prescribed mood enhancers.
Episode four: Alcohol and suicide
August 2010. I had recently been elected to the City Council. I had taken some time off with my mental health, again after my line manager (they had only moved one of the two on) was concocting stories to get me the sack. My wife and I went to visit friends in Herefordshire and went out to a live gig next to the River Wye. After a few too many drinks my wife and I had a bad argument because of my excessive alcohol intake and I stormed off.
Whilst walking alone I broke down thinking I’d ruined our relationship. I rang my wife and told her how I was going to end my life. After my friends and my wife turned up, I decided I needed some urgent help and booked in for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This, plus a change of medication and work environment helped get me back on an even keel.
Episode five: Betrayal and good friendships
A Saturday night, February 2015. A culmination of events over a two year period included being targeted by members of my own political group. I attempted to end my life again. Two very close friends came to my aid and called an ambulance which took me to hospital.
Reflections and goals
I often look back and think about where my poor mental health could have stemmed from. Could it have been seeing my mother being a victim of domestic violence from my natural father, who left when I was very young? Could it have been the bullying I endured throughout my school years? Could it be the excessive alcohol consumption from 16 onwards? Was it the cannabis I smoked or the ecstasy I was foolish enough to take in my 20s, thinking it would be a release? To be honest with you, it’s probably a bit of everything.
The experiences in my life have made me think deeper about mental health and have formed my own ideas about treatments and early interventions at all ages. I passionately believe in statutory pastoral care and mental health early interventions in all children’s centres, nurseries, schools, colleges and universities. I am a passionate advocate of the Health and Safety at Work Act being improved by placing a statutory responsibility on all employers to ensure they have mental health first aiders in every workplace.
I only hope my openness about my own struggles with mental health and my passionate advocacy for new ways of thinking to help those living with mental illness help drive much needed change and help reduce stigma.