Welcome to MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH at Annabel & Alice! If you haven’t already, head on over to Blog of Erised to read more about all the great posts going up around the blogosphere this month, and participate in a great giveaway, all in aid of raising the awareness of mental health in the community.
Today I’m going to share something that was a great inspiration to me. As you may know (or not, but that’s ok!), I’ve struggled with severe depression and anxiety for many years, though it’s been much worse over the past two years I suppose. For a long time, I exerted a huge amount of energy putting on a cheerful front and acting like I was A-OK all the time. However, eventually, I just didn’t have the energy left to maintain that ‘Happy’ mask. As I sunk further into depression, people around me slowly backed away. I graduated law school, but I defied expectations of being an immediate success, and didn’t throw myself into the intellectual and time pressured environment that was corporate law.
I grew up in a home where success is measured more in monetary security than good deeds. As the ‘smart one’ of the family, there was no question that I would be anything other than a traditional success. When I strayed from the standard path of degree-graduation-job, people definitely didn’t know how to react. Family and fellow graduates alike were confused. Those that knew the part that my depression played in my decision not to pursue the long hours and harsh environment of corporate law were still baffled about how to deal with that. In choosing a different path, and admitting that I had a mental health issue, I had somehow become a failure in their eyes.
This, to me, meant two things. Firstly, I felt that I had disappointed everyone, and somehow failed to live up to my potential. Secondly, I was saddened that it was so hard to have an open discussion about mental health without being judged, especially seeing as it’s so common in today’s society.
With regards to the first issue, I was lucky enough to stumble upon some very wise words that I often remind myself of when feeling like depression has made me a failure. Whilst on placement in a law firm, towards the end of my degree, we had a workplace seminar on mental health. 50% of lawyers suffer from depression, and the numbers just keep rising. Although firms now encourage more of a work-life balance, the long hours and depressing subject matter still take a dreadful toll. It was during this session that we were shown a clip from Beyond Blue, an organisation dedicated to raising awareness of depression and anxiety.
The clip was an interview with Paul Menzies, an Australian QC. It focused on his struggle with depression, and how he fought the urge to pretend that everything was ‘fine’. Instead, he decided to take steps to gradually change things in his life that helped manage his depression, one step at a time. He ‘defied’ the stigma of depression, and is widely recognised as successful, by professional standards.
Seeing this very successful man publicly, and impressively, speak out about how depression impacted his career and how he bravely changed his lifestyle to better manage the condition, was inspirational. It not only gave me hope that the legal profession could adapt it’s practices to better suit the mental health needs of practitioners, but also showed me that success – whatever that may mean – and depression are not mutually exclusive.
Furthermore, his willingness to share his experiences with depression, and how that impacted his work and life, gave me hope that open discussions about mental health could become more acceptable. Here was this man, unafraid of what people might think of him, openly encouraging people to look outside of themselves when looking to manage their issues.
I think if he could do it, albeit in a more high-profile setting than my little ‘ole blog, then I can do it to – and if I can do it, then so can anyone! Initiatives like Mental Health Awareness Week are great ways to defeat the stigma surrounding depression and anxiety. The more we talk about it, the less foreign it will become, and the less likely those who suffer from mental health problems will feel ashamed of themselves, or feel that they have failed their friends and family.
You can find the interview that inspired me here:
I suppose I hope that by sharing this with you, I might help someone, somewhere, feel a little better about what they’re dealing with. If not, I hope that it will at least encourage you to be a little more open to talking about mental health with those you love or those who are suffering. If you need someone to talk to, check out Beyond Blue – they know what they’re talking about!