The hard part about wanting to help remove the stigma attached to mental health is that you have to take the nerve wracking step of telling people about it.
These days I find it best to get that out of the way quickly and get onto the topic of trying to help other people that may be experiencing mental health issues rather than worry about my own. So with that said:
I first realised I was having mental health difficulties a few years ago when in rapid succession I went through the risk of redundancy following an organisational restructure, a move into a new team with more responsibility and a troubled legacy project with a very large budget attached to it. Despite dreadful anxiety, nausea, weight loss and falling asleep on the sofa as soon as I got home it took me a long time to realise that this all could be classed as a mental health issue. I simply thought that my job was getting too much for me and I was worried I was on course for failure. I had supportive colleagues and bosses around me who I was able to confide in and access to doctors and professional help at work as part of my benefits which I naturally took advantage of.
I was genuinely surprised when the GP told me that not only did I have anxiety, I was also clinically depressed. I was also relieved that there was a medical term for what I had been going through and I wasn’t just ‘overwhelmed.’ I started on the medication citalopram and a CBT course almost immediately and was surprised that I was seeing very little real improvement weeks and months later. It wasn’t until my interest in the subject of Mental Health was piqued following a webinar by Andrew Shatte organised by my employer during Mental Health Awareness week on the topic of resilience that I started to get a sense of how to manage my mental health.
I am not a mental health expert, but I do know that a healthy interest in the subject has engaged my critical faculties and I’ve applied them to helping myself by studying the vast amount of material available on the topic by pre-eminent doctors and psychologists.
The real breakthroughs in my mental wellbeing have come from reading the books of Andrew Shatte and Albert Ellis (whose work Shatte references and reframes) and realising certain truths for myself: “People don’t just get upset. They contribute to their upsetness,” Albert Ellis, and “You mainly feel the way you think,” also Albert Ellis. By keeping this in mind at all times, working through CBT exercises as explained by these experts in the field, and combining it with regular exercise and daily meditation I have a much healthier internal monologue, though it’s very easy to slip back into old habits, especially during trying times. Having a mental and physical fitness routine definitely helps address this. I can also say that I have had incredible support from my amazing wife long before I first went to the GP. Being the spouse of someone going through mental health issues can be a massive challenge in itself and anyone caring for a partner going through mental health difficulties should be aware that they can also look for help and support from charities and mental health organisations.
I can also look back at a challenging 2020 that has brought us the difficulties of living and working under lockdown, and a 2019 that saw me made redundant and find new employment, and have the satisfaction of helping roll out the Mental Health Charter at my new place of work, Curve Digital, where I have an official function as one of our Mental Health Champions. This is without doubt one of my proudest career achievements to date. I have also been off of medication for over 18 months as I have found my coping strategies mentioned above adequate to maintain my mental health. Any decision to come off of medication should be taken in conjunction with a medical professional, and just the same as there should be no stigma surrounding mental health, there should also be no stigma as to whether a person needs medication or not to maintain mental health.
My motivation for being a Mental Health Champion is simple – I want anyone experiencing the kind of things I’ve experienced to be able to get access to even more help and support than I did. If I imagine where I’d be if I’d never heard Andrew Shatte’s webinar or read the works of Albert Ellis or been encouraged to subscribe to Headspace, well it doesn’t bear thinking about to be honest, after all you mainly feel the way you think… and my inner monologue was far from nurturing in the past.
This is why I’ve shared this story with you and why I am honoured to work with the incredible people at Safe in our World and within Curve Digital’s HR and Leadership teams to end the stigma attached to mental illness and provide more support for those in the games industry that may need it.