“Lifting the lid on depression” was an event put on jointly by KPMG and Citigroup in Canary Wharf last Thursday. As the title suggests, the aim of the evening was to raise the issue of depression as a topic that can be discussed openly and to provide a forum of support and information for anyone touched by this illness.
The event was well attended, we had to close the registration process 2 days before the seminar, and was a huge success. I will publish a write up of the evening and it’s content, format and impact soon as other organisations may wish to follow suit and provide this sort of evening for their employees and management. In the meantime, here is a short version of my speech, my personal story, which I know from emails I have already received resonated with so many and encouraged them to take their first steps to recovery.
I could have said a lot more about how I actually deal with my depression on a day to day basis now, the meds I take, the impact it has on friends and family but I wanted to focus on the more positive aspects of my experience. That doesn’t mean that I am not open to questions.
Lifting the lid on depression 10 March 2011-My personal story
Here we are today 150 of us lifting the lid on depression.
This is fantastic and I hope that with your help and more importantly with your participation this afternoon we do just that for everyone here. Whether you have depression yourself, have a friend or relative with depression or have to manage and support someone at work let’s deal with this illness.
Before I go any further I just want to say a few words about my depression and how I feel today.
This time last week I wasn’t bouncing around like Tigger on speed which can often be the case but life was OK.
This week however it’s a very different story. Low mood and despair hit me like a train at the weekend and now I feel more like Eeyore; Glum and pessimistic at best and downright miserable at worst. Monday morning I went into meltdown. I withdrew from my family and colleagues and it was only with the support provided by my best buddy that I was able to carry on and get through the day. He deserves a 10/10 for effort, persistence and the encouragement that he gave me. Thank you. I wouldn’t be here today without it.
But that’s what depression does to a person and today, instead of feeling confident and assured I am finding this experience quite overwhelming and worrying. At times like this, I can get tearful and a little shaky so if I have to stop for a while and take a few deep breaths to compose myself please bear with me.
I’m happy to be here talking about my experiences and hope that I will get through the next 5 minutes or so without the tears. But if it happens, it happens. That’s just how it is and I imagine that many of you out there will know how it feels.
Up until last year I made sure that I kept my depression well and truly hidden. I did this for thirty years.
Why did I do this?
Mainly because I was ashamed of myself and the perceived weakness associated with this illness and because of the stigma and discrimination I thought would adversely affect my career. That has all changed for me now, but I will come on to that later.
I grew up as a young child in a household where depression was a beast. My mother was a depressive and was admitted as in-patient to a local psychiatric hospital. I’m sure that some of you here today are wondering how to deal with depression and what, when and how to tell children about it.
I can only say from my experience as a mature and intelligent child that I believe that more honesty and openness would have helped me cope much better with the implications of depressive illness not just as a child but as a teenager and adult. That said, I also appreciate the difficulties that need to be considered and every case will be different.
Like much about depression, it’s debatable.
Roll-back to last year and lifting the lid on my depression.
I was fed up, tired and totally drained after 30 years of pretending everything was “Ok”, “Fine” and “Hunky Dory” when I decided that the time was right to lift the lid on my depression and admit to my family, friends and colleagues that I have repeated and often very debilitating bouts of depression.
Most people were totally unaware of my continued battle against this illness and that depression was the reason behind frequent and sometimes prolonged absences from work. You could regularly find me camping out in my bedroom with only my TV, kettle and toaster for company weeks on end. I waited to do my shopping until the middle of the night at the 24 hour Tesco round the corner to make sure I didn’t meet anyone who might talk to me and even now I can find myself full of envy for grizzly bears that can hibernate without recrimination for months on end. How lovely that must be.
I was determined to put an end to the pretence and deception I felt I was inflicting on myself and others and so on the 26th May 2010 I sent what was to become a bombshell of an email to 30 of my friends and colleagues telling them my story.
This was not a spur of the moment action. It was a considered decision on my part and it felt the right thing to do at the time.
I was fully prepared for the consequences.
Or so I thought.
I actually got it very wrong. I completely misjudged the reaction of every single person. Whereas I had in fact geared myself up for negative responses and reproach what I received instead without exception were many words of support, understanding and kindness.
This very positive response took me completely by surprise and I found it totally overwhelming. These are just a few of the comments I received that day.
A very brave step indeed to publicly ‘out’ yourself, but well done for doing so. If no ones does, there will be no improvements!
I think depression is hugely misunderstood and I think its great that it gets a no-nonsense representative like you!
Well done Caroline, what an incredibly positive thing you are doing xx”
Your insight and honesty is going to resonate with so many and give them comfort 🙂
It’s my pleasure to support the fight against the stigma towards mental illness
It’s like Ghandi said “Be the change you want to see in the world” so with more people like you around we’ll get there.”
The Depression Alliance’s motto is “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. I think that my own personal journey began with a giant leap into the unknown but I have no regrets so far.
What followed on from my email has been nothing short of astonishing and my day to day life has changed dramatically as a result. These are just a few of the things that I have been involved in.
June 2010- I was featured in the Financial Times article called No Room for Gloom written by Clive Cookson.
I was invited to sit on the KPMG Disability Steering group as champion for mental health and I am now in a position to help and advise KPMG on a number of initiatives which will benefit our employees.
Emer from the Depression Alliance who is here today kindly invited me to the House of Commons launch of the report Depression, Disability and Employment compiled jointly by the Depression Alliance & RADAR and sponsored by the Priory Clinics.
Professor Chris Thompson from The Priory is here on our panel today. Together with Jonathan from Stand to Reason, these people are at the cutting edge of depression and its impact upon individuals, friends and family. Try and get to speak with them if you can. You will learn a lot.
I am a registered Rethink activist and Time to Change campaigner.
I also write a daily Blog which provides others with my personal insight on living with depression, and includes handy tips and importantly acts as a forum for others struggling with depression to come together and feel they are not alone with this illness.
What is in store for 2011 and beyond?
My focus for this year centres very much on the stigma associated with depression and issues like;
Why should people with mental illness and depression be pilloried and discriminated against because of their illness?
Why are there still so many un-busted myths about depression and anxiety?
What can we all do to help eradicate the stigma?
I’m no longer ashamed of my illness. It is part of me and who I am and I believe that I am a better person for the experience. One of the most humbling lessons in life that having depression has taught me is to never judge a person. There is a saying.
“To write a person off as worthless is an act of great violence-Don’t do it.”
This year I am on a mission and my aim is to help eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness and depression in particular.
Because everyone deserves a chance.
Why should you and I care?
You and I should care because depression is non-discriminatory and unpredictable. Tomorrow it could descend on you or someone you care about.
To help me in my quest I have a call to action for you:
Going away from here today I would like everyone here to start talking openly and honestly about mental health issues and your experiences of depression. Only in this way will we effect change.
I’m not saying its going to be easy but I am telling you it will be worth it.
Thank you for listening.