Thursday, 24 November 2016

Working and Living with Depression

I think it would be fair to say 2016 has been my "annus horribulis"

If I am honest I can't wait for the year to be over as the next six weeks of this year are going to be seriously challenging both mentally, emotionally as well as financially.

But I am sure I will survive. Part of my recovery has been helped by finally admitting my fight with depression. I can honestly say I am glad to have spoken about my depression because it has opened up conversations with many people who have shared their own personal experiences of mental health issues either as a carer or for themselves. This is not an instruction to others to do the same, as it is important that if and when you do, it is the right time for you, and as we all know we are all different.

One of the most the commonest fear about disclosing that you have mental health problems is the fear of stigma. Whilst everyone says there should no longer be any stigma anymore, there is.

Yes, things are better now, but it is still there. Stigma is damaging as it actively prohibits many from sharing with others for fear of the reaction.

Then there is insight. I hated the word insight when I was a practicing mental health social worker. It sounded pretentious, slightly condescending term to describe someone who would accept a diagnosis. I still don’t like it, but I know that it can be possible that not to know. I didn’t know I was depressed, but after treatment and support of my counsellor, I can see patterns of behaviour. I suppose that is a sort of insight?

What I do next to try to look after my mental health is partly under my control, with help of medication and some counselling. But I don’t want to have to rely on counselling and medication. I want to be independent and free and be myself once again, if that is possible. I say this because I don’t know if others feel the same, but I seem to question myself more, both by what I say and how I am behaving.

I ask myself “Is this the real John, have I changed and if so is it better?”

One of the things I have experienced since my breakdown has been how people relate to me now or rather who don't. It certainly has been an eye opener to see how people react, those that are supportive and those who appear to avoid contact. There again I don't know how much of this is real or not, but it's a feeling that I haven't been able to shift, so apologies to comrades if I appear stand offish.

One of the consequences of my breakdown has been the impact on my self-esteem and confidence. This was one on my major fears. As a union rep I have to be able to represent my members; and show no fear of speaking out when I see members and services being attacked.

After all what use am I as a union rep if I no longer have the courage to speak out?

What use is there for a union rep who looks the other way when there members are in need?

Not that I have tried, but I have long since given up, thinking I could walk away from being a trade union rep. I can't turn away, or pretend there is nothing wrong, as some others seem to be able to do. Perhaps that is another failing of mine, one activist used to say I must “care less”. I think I know they meant it as advice to lower my stress levels, but I don’t seem to be able to do that. I’ve made a decision this year that as long as I am in a union I won't be bullied or pushed around anymore by anyone without a fight.

In the past few months there have been multiple issues which have challenged my mental health wellbeing. I know I have been breaking the rules for self-preservation because the workload is intense as is all of my members. I am trying; with the support from my counsellor and my branch reps to manage my workload, but weekdays are blending into my weekend, which I know is a bad sign.

“Never mind it will soon be Christmas break?”

Helping others
In the last few weeks I have been trying to help two comrades who are experiencing mental health problems; which are impacting on the quality of their lives. I along with others friends are making sure both are aware we are there for them, whenever they are ready.

There have been some highlights in the year.
First had to be my branch reps and office staff who have stood by me through this terrible year and managed to support members without the resources they needed. 
Meeting up with Durham TAs has been a big highlight. There have been times where I have seriously questioned my continued involvement in the trade union movement. Just spending time with the TAs quickly reminds why I am still trying to learn to be a better grassroots union rep.

Lastly, I came across an article on Unison web site about a branch who have been pioneering a project with their employer called "Time to Talk", I was so energised by what I read, I immediately contacted Laney Walsh the UNISON Redditch and Bromsgrove Branch Secretary.

Laney is the sort of rep I admire, after a few minutes of speaking to her on the phone I could feel her energy and passion for the good mental health and wellbeing of her members. The work she has done already and the evidence she has sent to me had such a positive vibe that I, decided that even though we are so busy with the mass outsourcing I would like to try to do something similar here in Barnet.

Once I have had the chance to digest all the information I will be setting up a meeting with the Council and hopefully Laney will be able to come down to help convince the employer of the benefits.

Achieving good mental health can have a massive impact on staff both at work but also more importantly at home.

If anyone out there has some stories you would like to share or ideas that have helped pleased let me know and I will share them.

For now, thanks for reading and feel free to leave comments or share.



  1. Very courageous and honest post, John: I think it is particularly hard for men to talk about this subject, but you have been brave enough to do so, and I am sure you will be all the stronger for it, as a result.

  2. Well done for talking about this and for all your hard work. The pressure you are under right now is immense and I think its amazing how you have stood up to those in powerful positions who would flout democracy for their own interests.

  3. Thank you, John for opening up on this so bravely! Both as a carer and as a community activist I can tell you that there are many many more amongst us who struggle with poor mental health. And this is not surprising in the society and time we are living in.

    Your initiative is welcome and much needed not only for your union members, but for activists too, although there isn't much of that going on in Barnet at the moment. We learned this from the last day conference that BAPS and others organized a year ago, in November 2015, when we all tried to combat activists' fatigue, burnout and frustration.The one theme that came out loud and clear from ALL the sessions was mental health. The message was clear: We need to learn how to look after our own and our comrades' mental health and to incorporate it into all of our meetings, activities and actions. And we need to make it legitimate to talk about it. So thank you for starting to implement it.