Being open about mental health


John Harvey is a regular columnist for Exeter Life magazine, and was the former Exeter City Centre Manager and local councillor.  He took part in the RealMenTalk campaign and is an advocate for mental health, having experienced depression himself.

“Thinking about suicide last year, I had thought about it before, it’s not the first time, but I think that was the time that I came closest to really doing it.  And it scared me, it scared me that I made all those plans and I’d worked out how many tablets I could get from different places.  I went home and I really was going to do it.  And the thing that stopped me was my boy.  He sent me a message which was the most beautiful thing, which I still think about every day.

“Because I struggle with my mental health I think it’s really important to be open and honest about it.  Partly because that does help me but also partly because I know that if that helps other people, in a sense then that helps me too.

“I know that if I don’t get out of bed by about 9, then there’s a real risk that I won’t get out of bed all day – or all weekend.  I have had weekends where you just don’t get out of bed and you find a million and one reasons why you shouldn’t bother to get out of bed.

“I now have the strength to know that when you go to sleep on one of those days that you just tell yourself “I’ve got to do better” and then Monday comes and you think “I’ve got to get up and earn some money.

“I’ve been surprised that people have reached out that I didn’t really know were noticing my moods and how I was going through things.

“Being compassionate for other people and playing a part in helping them is an incredibly important part of coping yourself.

“If people feel that it’s something that they are comfortable talking about with family or friends in social situations, then we’re there.  But I doubt very much whether people this evening will talk about these issues as part of their normal conversation.  There’s a long way to go.

“I’m probably as a man quite unusual in my determination to talk about these things.  But I think that’s different from how I was, the reality is that for years I didn’t talk about a load of stuff.

“In terms of trying to take my life, it scared me how close I came.  You can talk about it with the benefit of hindsight and it’s easy.  As with everything in life we all have challenges at any one time: financial, job worries, relationship problems. We all go through it, there’s no such thing as a perfect marriage or a perfect relationship, there’s no one who’s never had debt. But when all those things confront you at once and you can’t see a way out, that’s when it’s really difficult.

“I think often it’s the little things, for me doing one thing a day that’s a bit different or positive.  It’s doing a little small thing each day which makes you smile.  For me, exercise is incredibly important. I’ve always walked a lot anyway but walking even more now is really important.  Trying to get out and do running is important, I’m hopeless at it at the moment but it’s really important.

“We would be better if we reached out a bit more, if we were more open, if we talked more, if we were more honest about ourselves and the challenges we face.  No one individual or organisation has all the answers.  The reality is that none of us have the answers but all of us have a bit of the jigsaw so we can come together and put those bits of the jigsaw together then the prize is potentially really big.” Hear his interview here.

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