A brave and very personal guest post from Malc Harvey, one of the original founding team of this blog. Thanks Malc!

MalcTaking a leaf out of the book of John Woodcock, the Labour MP for Barrow and Furness (ironically, part of the world where I visited on holiday last week – lovely views, shame about the weather) I’m just going to come out and say this:

I have depression, and I’m dealing with it.

I write this not for sympathy or support, but for myself and for others who suffer from the same condition.  I’ve been struggling with this for a reasonable length of time in private and I’ve found writing about it, and being open and honest about it in public, has been usefully cathartic for me.  Much as everyone experiences depression in different ways, so too solutions present themselves differently. While this works for me, it wouldn’t work for everyone, but other things which do work for others – like CBT, or talking through things with a specialist – don’t appear to be things which would work for me.

If this sounds a bit confused, that’s because there’s nothing about this that isn’t.

Why am I depressed?  In the last 18 months I have (in no particular order): become a dad, defended my thesis, started a new job, co-authored and published a book, published chapters in other books, taken research trips in some of Europe’s fine capital cities, moved house, bought a house, appeared on live TV and radio around the referendum, and run a marathon.  In 18 months.  Sure, not all of it has been easy, but that’s a lot of successful stuff to be noting – a lot of milestones reached, a lot of bucket-list things ticked off.  So why so sad?

If you’re asking that question, you’re falling into the same trap as I did.  Depression isn’t about success or failure (though, in some cases, it can be).  It just is.  It just happens.  What is important is to recognise it – not to bury your head in the sand and ignore it – and tackle it head on.  I’ve spent a lot of (what I realise now to be wasted) time trying to figure out why I’m depressed.  There’s been no trigger, no trauma, no crisis.  I just am.  And that’s partly where the frustration lies.

The thing is, it took me ages to identify it too.  I was irritable, lethargic and eating more than I usually would.  I overslept and grabbed naps in the afternoons at my desk.  I obsessively checked my emails, Facebook and Twitter feeds for replies, even though my phone would provide an indication of a new interaction.  Something wasn’t right, but I was just ignoring it.  Then, a turning point came, and it wasn’t anything that happened in my immediate vicinity.  Someone who made their life about making others laugh succumbed to depression and took his own life.  I’ve always tried to bring the fun, whether I’m working, playing or whatever, and the realisation that someone as brilliantly funny and (seemingly) with a heart full of laughter could suffer from such a deep depression really hammered home to me that something wasn’t right in my own head.  And so, to the GP I went.

I’ve been on anti-depressants for a couple of months now.  At the start, they had limited effect – they take some time to absorb into your system, and for a while, the side-effects are pretty gruesome.  But after a while, they seemed to have a pretty decent go at making me feel better about myself – I got through referendum night with a buzz of adrenaline, and a similar thing kept me going at the Loch Ness Marathon 10 days later, in spite of the depression limiting the training I’d endured.  But in the last couple of weeks I’ve seen a few more bad days – lethargy returning, concentration slipping, irritability increasing.  Not quite back to square one, but a reassessment required.  Another GP appointment to discuss options, and a slight increase in medication dosage.  We’ll see how that goes, but I’m positive at least about doing something to help myself improve.

In the meantime, support from family and friends has been incredible.  I “came out” about my depression in the wake of finishing the marathon last month.  On Sunday, I reflected upon the support I’d had, and thanked those who’d helped.  Privately, I got no fewer than 10 emails and phone calls saying “I’ve been through/ am going through similar things, I’m really not ready to share it publicly, but I wanted you to know that you’re not alone, and you can talk to me about it if you want”.  There remains a stigma attached to mental health issues which slightly baffles me.  If you break your arm, you get medical attention – a cast for support, medication and time tend to fix the break.  Depression should be seen in a similar light – and treated in the same way: support, medication and time.  It isn’t – it’s seen as a personal weakness and it really shouldn’t be.  It’s time we fixed that, and much work is being done in this area at the moment.

So yes – this is cathartic for me to write, but if it also helps others who experience similar things, I’m glad.  I’ve found writing and talking helps, and on good days I’m happy to do more of it.  On bad days, however, I need a bit more help.  Hopefully though, there will be fewer of those in the near future.