A Hastings man is using Time to Talk Day as an opportunity to encourage people to open up and discuss their mental health.
Time to Talk Day, on Thursday (February 7), encourages organisations, employers, schools and individuals to have a conversation about mental health to help break down stereotypes, improve relationships, aid recovery and take the stigma out of something that affects us all.
Southdown is just one of many organisations across Hastings and Rother that provide mental health support.
Paul, from Hastings, accessed support from Southdown’s mental health services, and volunteered for the organisation.
In support of Time to Talk Day, he shared his story.
He said: “I have suffered with bouts of depression for as long as I remember.
“However, it is only now I realise I experienced depression as a teenager.
“Throughout my life, I have had failed friendships and relationships. I never felt like I fitted in and often felt lonely. I often turned to alcohol to self-medicate. But I realise now this wasn’t the answer, as it only made my depression worse.
“When I was 20 years old I developed a hereditary eye condition which became worse over a period of time.
“In 2005, the condition got a lot worse. I was in a lot of pain and discomfort and I could no longer do my job. I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t carry on. I had to give up work as a builder and decorator and owner of a small business. I was feeling desperate and was very depressed about the whole thing. I had to sell my house and downsize.
“This had a huge impact on me. I felt less of a man because I couldn’t provide and had to live off a limited income. It affected my confidence and self-esteem. But I didn’t accept the seriousness of how I was feeling. I rejected help from local social services. Being a man, being young, being headstrong, I rejected it foolishly. I now know that was a mistake. My attitude was, ‘I’m a bloke, we don’t do that!’.
“Ten years down the line and I look back and the effects of not working have been detrimental to my health and wellbeing. I think we’re all supposed to work. It gives us a grounding, helps with our wellbeing, and gives us a sense of pride and place in society. If that’s taken away then you can feel isolated and inferior which can lead to depression. And it did in my case.
“For years I would say, ‘this is no good, you’ve got to get help’. And I didn’t. Some of it was not knowing where to get help and some of it was me not wanting to admit it.
“Last winter I was feeling very desperate. Something had to change – I couldn’t keep going like this. In February, I finally went to my new GP. He was wonderful. He listened. He was really supportive, really good. He immediately prescribed me some medication and referred me to Health in Mind.
“I started to embrace help and support. This was when I was also introduced to Southdown’s mental health services.
“There was a lot of helpful information and I made a couple of friends there too. It was good to talk about how I was feeling. I enjoyed that. It was a humbling experience as well because there are people worse off.
“All the support I’ve received has helped me to be more positive about myself, more hopeful about what the future will bring, and just happier in general really.
“It was this holistic approach to managing my depression that has enabled me to reconnect, seek support, and build my self-confidence.
“I think it’s really important to talk about mental health because there’s been lots of stigma in the past, and because it’s not a visual disability it isn’t always seen and acknowledged.
“It should be more widely talked about and understood, especially in the workplace and in families.
“I want to share my story so I can help others. It might be motivational for even just one person. There are so many people out there who need help. And a lot of people don’t have a social circle – they’re isolated and lonely. It’s heart-breaking to think that.
“As a man it is sometimes difficult to talk about these things, to find help, or find the motivation to find help.
“But I’m ever so glad I did and I’d recommend anyone going through what I did to reach out. There’s so much help. It’s been wonderful. Things can improve.”
Useful websites to find out about local services include www.southdown.org and www.eastsussex.gov.uk/socialcare/healthadvice/mental-health/directory.
Time to Talk Day is organised by Time to Change, a national social movement organisation. For more information, visit https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/.