I will never forget midnight the 25th January 2008 as it spilled over into 26th January, my eldest daughters birthday, and me waking up with my first ever panic attack, which later that morning I was told by a doctor was the final straw in my unknowing battle with anxiety/depression. My illness lasted another three months, three months off work and three months of being determined to live as could not see myself leaving my two lovely daughters and wife without a father/husband, although often thought of ending it, as the pain and suffering was so bad. Being a father was in many ways a constant reminder of why I had to get better and do everything in my power to get better! In addition, it made me determined not to be burdened by the stigma of depression and anxiety, so I told all. In so doing I got the most amazing support and encouragement -- essential ingredients to my recovery and why today I do so much advocating and campaigning for the need to break the stigma.
Stigma has killed too many! I knew a father ( a very good friend) who I think was burdened by stigma. It prevented him from seeking the support, medication and counsel he needed to get better and instead he took his own life. My message to fathers out there is don't be burdened by the stigma, help is out there for you! Instead of people seeing you as weak, as the stigma infers, people see you as being courageous in being able to talk about what is an illness, and like most others, that it can be cured.
We fathers must learn to share our emotions and feelings more. It is only through doing this that we can get the early intervention needed to get well, flourish, or better manage our illness vs. the all too awful alternative of leaving it all too late (and where the only way out seems to leave others behind). That does not need to be the outcome, says me a real "practitioner" and father who has been ill"!
Who would have thought that six years on from my illness and just over three years since the death of my friend that this illness and breaking the stigma could have given me so much meaning in life. A number of organizations have been very generous in giving a voice to my advocacy and these include, Huffington Post, Time to Change and BBC, in particular Radio 4 and Mens Hour on Radio 5. If you get a moment, listen to my latest clip for Radio 4. Some real good can come of those dark, dark days and never believe you cannot make a big difference in this very anxious world, in fact we can save lives, particularly fathers, if able to inspire them to come "out of the closet" and speak about their emotional and mental health.
This advocacy has also led me to begin work with the corporate world to address stigma. My own experience of doing this in a large multi national organization, as a senior leader, has given me the confidence to go out and help other corporates. As someone once said to me, speaking about your mental health seems to be ok if you are a sportsman, politician or celebrity, but it is still not ok to talk about this in the corporate world. We need to address this last bastion of stigma! As more and more men/fathers, particularly those in senior roles, talk about their own experience of mental ill health, the more and more we can normalize this condition, in a world where it is normal and as frequent as many physical illnesses, so why not talk about it.
For those fathers out there who would like to find out more as to how they could contribute to redeeming this social condition visit the Time to Change website.
Ralph Emerson once wrote, "To leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, a redeemed social condition, to know that even one life has breathed easier because you lived, this is to have succeeded. Lets go help other fathers breathe easier. You can live and love, but most importantly go MATTER!
Contact/ Follow Geoff on @geoffmcdonald1
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.