Harry's story: overcoming severe depression

Sitting at my desk as I try to start this story, I'm struggling to decide where to begin and I can feel it coming on. Shivers up my arms and into my neck, a heavy chest, now my legs start, I'm not sure if I'm hot or cold, my chest gets heavier as my body decides whether to fight or take flight.

Luckily, I'm aware of what's going on; my head remains calm as I write these words. Letting myself become overcome with the anxiety that is taking hold of my body, the natural response I feel when confronted with difficult tasks or stress, is not going to happen. I'd like to show that if they're spotted early enough, mental health problems can be managed and even prevented.

Dealing with depression is an everyday struggle. It's definitely true that some days are worse than others, but I've learned to manage it, to become aware of my symptoms, my triggers, and to remain in control.

However, this has not always been the case. It's only of late that I have come to understand what's going on inside and the relationship between my body and mind. Awareness is the key to prevention and that is why I'd like to share with you my story of battling depression. I don't want anyone else to feel the way I have done, to feel trapped and isolated by mental health problems and to not be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

My depression

You might have seen my name before, at the bottom of emails from the Foundation's Events Team. You may have even spoken to me on the phone or maybe we've exchanged emails. 

I'm Harry, currently working at the Mental Health Foundation as a Fundraising Intern and much of the work done on launching our Curry & Chaat fundraiser, including two of the recipes, is of my doing.

Although I'm working at the Mental Health Foundation, I am still a student, currently on a year of temporary withdrawal from my studies due to my mental health problems. Looking back, I can see that I have battled with depression for a long time, but it was not until university that it took an uncontrollable hold of my life.

Everybody has bad days but depression can make every day a bad day. I would spend days on end in bed, unwilling, or even unable to move, for depression can be so debilitating that it becomes physically disabling.

I would hardly eat or drink, refuse to socialise, want to escape but not be able to as there was nowhere for me to go, knowing that I would always have to return to my room at the end of the day.

It's a vicious cycle that, without help, is almost impossible to break.

Recognising that I needed help

The first big step for me was accepting, or as is often more difficult, realising that I was mentally unwell. It took me a long time to do this. The days I spent lying in my bedroom on my year abroad, telling myself I was 'just bored', was me refusing to accept the reality that was my mental ill health. 

Likewise, in my final year, when my depression reached its peak, I would progressively miss more and more lectures and seminars, leave social outings early or skip them altogether, spend more and more time alone in self-imposed isolation, and tell myself that it was just because I'm introverted, or that I was 'tired'. And I was tired, but not for lack of sleep; this was actually a symptom of my depression.

I had however been seeing my GP on and off for a number of years about my mental health. I first went while I was still at school, but I had always refused treatment, always believing that I was in 
control enough that I didn't need it.

Yet, in late April 2017, it all became too much. After somehow finishing my dissertation, I knew I couldn't go on and started to consider temporary withdrawal. It was a step I was so reluctant to take, as at the time, it symbolised failure, it was me letting my depression defeat me by rendering me completely unable to carry on with 'normal' life.

However, I was wrong. Taking this step was nothing of which to be ashamed. It's a sign of strength to know when to bow out. Accepting that I needed help and that I was unable to continue my studies at that point was an unbelievably difficult decision, but taking a break to focus on my mental health, to recover, has been so much better for me in the long run.

Therapy has changed me as a person

I self-referred for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) soon after leaving university. This was such an important step for me. Simply by removing myself from my university studies, I began to see a slight improvement in my mental health, but without CBT, I would not be where I am today.

CBT helped me understand what was causing my depression and that withdrawing from society and wallowing in self-pity was only making me feel worse. Changing my attitude and adopting a positive outlook for the future, seeing myself in a position where I understood my depression and where it did not have an uncontrollable impact on my day-to-day life, was life-changing. 

Actively seeking to get mentally healthier and focusing on rebuilding a sense of routine in my life (which is possibly the most important aspect in allowing yourself to maintain good mental health) allowed me to get into a position where I was looking for part-time work whilst on leave from university; work that I found at the Mental Health Foundation.

At my lowest point, I was scoring in the 'severe' bracket of depression, but when I was discharged after a couple of months of CBT sessions, my mental health had improved so drastically that I scored at the lower end of 'mild'. 

I've seen a huge improvement in my mental health and am a completely different person as a result. My depression is still there, I think it always will be, but I can manage it to the extent that it doesn't affect my ability to function in day-to-day life.

No one should suffer alone

There are so many other people just like me who struggle with depression and that is why it is so important to raise awareness in order to prevent others from reaching the same horrible depths that I did. The work the Mental Health Foundation does in this regard is vital.

No one should face mental health problems alone and this is why I believe that Curry & Chaat is such an amazing thing. If we all talk about our mental health, we'll break down the stigma and help others to become more aware of the onset of mental health problems and as a result people will feel more inclined to seek help when they start to experience the symptoms.

I want to help create a world with good mental health for all and I hope my story has been helpful or even inspiring.

We need your help

We want fewer people to experience what Harry experienced - our vision is for a world with good mental health for all. Working towards that, we are producing a depression prevention review, which will focus on how best we can prevent problems before they get worse. We can't do work like this without your help. Your donations help us continue our work to find and address the sources of mental health problems.

Help us prevent depression