Mental Health Blog

Submitted by Tor Cavanagh on

The thing that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy but I have also learnt so much from, depression.  Crushing feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness is some of the worst pain I have ever experienced. As someone who is very fit, the sudden feeling of not being able to breathe properly during a panic attack is doubly scary.  However, I also know myself and other people much more deeply having come through it. 

I have suffered periods of depression from my early twenties – possibly also during my teens although it was never diagnosed.  For me, I describe it as the rather extreme warning system.  It doesn’t come out of nowhere, there are reasons, often I feel trapped in a situation and I can’t find the solution.  It is more the ‘not being able to find a solution’ that is the trigger.  I have been through stressful situations where I have some possibility of solving it or emergency situations where I just have to act and depression doesn’t strike.  It’s when I can’t see a possible route out – however tenuous, I then have a tendency to turn in on myself and feel inadequate.  For a long time, not understanding how differently I see the world as a dyslexic helped create these situations.  Understanding my strengths and my different viewpoint on the world via dyslexia has reduced my tendency for depression.

A key point for people on the outside, is that the trigger is worth taking note of.  My response may seem like an overreaction but the warning is still worth taking note of.  For example, I may react badly and feel inadequate if a client at work is behaving immorally and can potentially damage our company and I can’t see how to manage the situation.  I blame myself more than I should, they may have less capacity to harm the company than I foresee, but the danger is still real.  Acknowledging I have spotted something serious helps me feel heard and is really important.  It makes it much easier to go through some ‘what ifs’ with me to help me understand the true scale of the problem.

Another key point is that just telling me to take it easy doesn’t solve the problem and therefore doesn’t help.  The thought of taking a break and coming back to the same situation is even more horrendous.  The lack of a way through a problem is the trigger therefore helping me to solve that will help me feel better and less inadequate.

People who have suffered depression can have a certain black humour that is difficult for anyone who has not experienced mental health problems to understand.  We generally keep this to ourselves but we should perhaps share it to reduce the fear of mental health.  For example, I have gone through my mind which bit of a set of cliffs on the local mountains would be the best setting to jump from!  A friend of mine said they couldn’t quite decide which bridge would be better jump from and another did calculations in her head as to the pros and cons of a taxi that would be faster or a bus that would be heavier.  We just have to laugh after the event.

As an employer, it helps having experienced mental health problems.  I have not experienced other peoples’ situations but I at least know what it is like to see the world in a different way to ‘normal’ people.  Depression and anxiety can go hand in hand with some healthy self-doubt and caution that is useful at work, a bit of humility and calculating risk doesn’t go amiss.  Companies reap rewards in staff retention, healthy relationships between staff and productivity by taking the time to support people, give them space and work out what works for them when staff are ill.

I am frustrated how little support companies get, particularly small ones, even when they want to do the right thing (unfortunately many can’t be bothered).  Receiving a sick note that has one word such as ‘anxiety’ or depression’ really gives you no clues how to support someone.  I can resort to Google to try to find advice, but it will be generic, where there are times that I really needed expert advice, I could call on to say ‘this is the situation, what do I do now?’  It is understandable that companies are nervous of the situations.  It seems a mistake that there is significant amount of services offered to employment schemes to learn work skills, e.g. to write CVs etc. but virtually nothing to address whether mental health issues are holding people back from long term employment.

I am not a medical expert but from my experience, my key points would be –

  • Try understand any triggers and acknowledge their existence. 
  • Work with people to understand the true scale and find solutions. 
  • Take the time.
  • Don’t be afraid of mental health problems, go along with any black humour.

My ask of government is help to support mental health issue 1 to 1 for employers and joined up thinking with initiatives to get people into employment.