I’m writing this in support of the campaign to end mental health discrimination. To those who know me I may seem a calm, cheerful, and well-adjusted person, and I am, but that wasn’t always the case. Back in the late 1960s I had a debilitating physical condition which gave me severe anxiety attacks. That led to a bout of severe depression, or maybe I’m just assuming the connection – it was a long time ago. I couldn’t talk about it then, either to my family, my employer or my doctor. Few did talk about it in those days. It was a matter of shame, but more than that, the depression itself made me unwilling to communicate with anyone.
Somehow, and truthfully I can’t remember how, I came through that bout, which lasted about six months. I recovered, and it has never recurred. I was lucky. Since then, I’ve done things I would never have thought possible. I’ve come to believe that anyone can do anything, if they want to do it. But I’ve never forgotten what it was like to be in those dark depths. Later, after training, I became a workplace counsellor, and I did what I could to help workmates facing difficulties, including debt, bereavement, relationship problems and, of course, mental health issues. I think having been through it gave me insights and empathy.
After retirement, in my new career as a writer, I’ve worked in many mental health settings, from drop-in centres to a major national institution. I’ve seen people with many mental health problems, with learning difficulties, with anxiety and depression, with dementia, and with psychoses and personality disorders. I’ve explored ways in which I can encourage reading and writing poetry in these settings, because I believe that poetry is an act of communication. I don’t call it therapy, because I am not a qualified therapist. I only know that people can respond positively to poetry. Not always, not permanently, and sometimes in very challenging ways, but often enough for me to know it’s something which has the potential to enhance a person’s life.