It’s been a long time since I’ve written in this blog. While I could write a lot about the exciting developments and opportunities I’ve experienced during my time at the Rees Centre, that’s not why I’m writing this blog post today.
Today, as part of the Time to Change #TimeToTalk campaign, I am ‘coming out’ as a person with depression. One of that too-often stigmatised group referred to as ‘the mentally ill’.
I have had periods of depression throughout my teenage and adult life, though it’s taken some perspective to recognise that that’s what they were. I thought that was just the way people felt when they had got into a situation they could see no way out of. I thought that telling myself I was in a ‘bad situation’ meant that that was the problem. I knew that depression was an illness without one specific ‘cause’ (I don’t know who to credit but I love the “Why are you cancered?” analogy), but I didn’t know that it can be an underlying condition that raises its ugly head when triggered by something stressful. I know that now.
Depression is not something to be ashamed of. Just because it can’t be seen, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. It’s debilitating, it sucks away your motivation and enthusiasm for life, and hacks away at the relationships that you so sorely need to get you through the bad days. It makes the tiniest decision seem like the biggest deal, and convinces you that things will and should go wrong for you. Depression can kill just like any of the physical health issues that steal people away from us. When you’re in the middle of a depressive episode, its link with death seems obvious. When you’re not, it’s hard to believe that you’re the same person who was looking at the world in such a terrifying way just a few days earlier.
I’m lucky. I have the support of my wonderful family and friends when I need it. I have a job with flexible hours and an understanding team (though those flexible hours aren’t always helpful when I need to motivate myself to get out of bed!). I have my physical health, so I can head out for a walk or a jog when I’m at that stage in between ‘immobile’ and ‘fine’. And my job pays well enough that for the first time in my life I don’t need to worry about being in debt. Yet with all those things going in my favour, it’s still bloody hard. On the bad days, I don’t want to see anyone, talk to anyone, think about the people I love who are hurting or getting older. I don’t even want to get up.
If it’s so hard for me with all those advantages, what must it be like for someone who’s living in poverty? For someone who doesn’t have a supportive family or friends? For someone who has to force themselves out of bed for a routine they never agreed to or wanted? For someone who’s been made to live in a strange place, with strange people and strange rules and who’s been told they can’t go home? For someone who has all this, and hasn’t even left school yet? Because as bad as it is for me, I cannot conceive how horrific it must be to be going through a depressive episode as a young person in care.
I am currently at a conference in Lausanne, where tomorrow I’ll be talking about a review I co-wrote for the NSPCC on preventing and treating poor mental health in looked-after children. I continue in my work to push for a focus on mental health for looked-after children and young people, who because of all these factors make them particularly vulnerable to mental health issues. I was asked recently if I was okay to continue my work on this topic, given my own mental state; but if anything, my experiences have made me more passionate about the need to address this crucial issue for young people in care. Those who hold the money and the power to intervene need to know the best way to do this, and that’s where research like our review can help. But there is so much more to be done.
Depression is not ‘my problem’: it is ‘our issue’. We owe it to our young people to protect their health, and an important first step is making the #TimeToTalk about it. Please take 5 minutes today to talk to someone about how they are feeling, and post your own messages on Twitter. Your support can make a world of difference.