I first awoke to the fact that something wasn’t right when I saw my sister one afternoon. It was 2006. I had a steady job, regular income; I was living in the city centre and had a large group of friends. On the face of it, things were going well and I had no reason to be unhappy.
I hadn’t been through a traumatic break-up, I hadn’t been exposed to any real tragedy, and my home life was manageable. Yes, I faced the same every-day problems as the average person but in no area of my life was I in any real difficulty; I had no reason to worry.
Yet I was unhappy, and I did worry.
Sitting there in that café with my sister, after she commented on me looking tense and seeming distracted I realised that for some time I had been feeling different to how I remembered. I felt smothered, like being shrouded in a fog that was draining me of vitality, invisibly slipping unwanted thoughts into my head and slowly convincing me that everything was hopeless. It was as if I had forgotten how to be happy.
When depression struck, it robbed me of many things – self esteem, rational thought, optimism, but the thing that particularly stung was that I no longer cared about any of the things I had previously loved. Things that used to inspire me no longer contained any magic. I had withdrawn from the world to the point where I had no desire whatsoever to interact with anything or anyone outside of myself. This was a struggle at the best of times, yet it felt much more challenging at certain periods of year, but especially so at Christmas. Seeing everybody in such good spirits just compounded my feelings of emptiness as I was incapable of taking anything positive from any of it.
Not wanting to make my discomfort obvious, or kill the mood for everyone else, I put on a brave face and tried to smile through it but underneath the mask I was rattling through thoughts of trouble and drifting further away. Other times I could not bring myself to be around people and I would sit alone, dwelling on past failures and imagined problems when I could have been close to those dear to me. I see how Christmas can be the most social time of the year, but also how it can be the loneliest.
Sadly, there are countless people here in the UK who do not have the same support network that I had. There are many people who will not get a call from a friend or be visited by family, thousands of people who will not even recognise the significance of what is happening to them.
Depression is very much an equal opportunities illness and it can affect almost anybody, men and women, adults and young people. I was shocked to learn that suicide is the most prevalent cause of death in men under 50 in the UK. Not drug use, not heart disease, not cancer or road traffic incidents, but suicide.
Different things work for different people, but in my personal experience, talking therapy was by far the most productive form of help. I think that boils down to the fact that deep down we all need someone to talk to, someone who we can offload our problems onto, but crucially, somebody from whom we do not fear judgement. Family and friends may be there for you, but they can also be too close to the situation at times which is where counsellors and mental health workers can be of great benefit.
Thankfully, we are blessed with some truly amazing services that offer free, confidential advice and assistance to anybody who chooses to contact them. I think the most obvious support provider is the NHS. Whilst I did find the services on offer to be a little hit and miss at first, overall they gave me helpful information and they recognise the importance of education in the reduction of mental health cases. Most importantly, they were there when I needed them.
The Samaritans can give great comfort to some, and if you just need to talk to someone then they are there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Plus, for those not up to telephone conversations, you can text, email or even employ the lost art of letter writing!
There are a number of places that offer help on Merseyside and CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably, is one that I was always aware of due to their presence at various events in Liverpool over the years. CALM is aimed at men specifically, with a free, confidential and anonymous helpline and webchat service and while this may seem a little one-sided, it is with good reason. Men accounted for almost 80% of suicides in England and Wales in 2013 which marks not only another increase in male suicides but also an increase in the ratio of male to female deaths. This is happening for a reason, and it is essential that we try to tackle the underlying issues, which is exactly what CALM endeavour to do. Their recent Man Down campaign, is exactly the kind of message that I needed to hear when I was struggling; that I was no less of a man for needing some help and that with a bit of knowledge we can all help and support those around us going through a tough time. As CALM says, being silent isn’t being strong.