Having been diagnosed with the reactive illness myself in 2009 as a result of racism and homophobia in the workplace, over time I have become very much interested in understanding mental health as well as trying to recover from it.
A few days ago, I found out that Alastair Campbell (Tony Blair’s former Director of Communications) was going to be one of the guest speakers. I remember vividly a while back hearing of ‘his’ battle with depression and how open he was about it, being quite inspired by him… showing that the illness can happen to anyone, regardless of their success.
Whatever you think of politics, his ‘coming out’ helped many like myself as opposed to medical professionals who haven’t necessarily ‘walked the walk’.
Anyway, today was a weird day for many reasons.
Firstly, I bumped into one of my closest friends who lives in Manchester and was in London for the day with work on a flying visit. Just before seeing her, I had decided that from today I was going to be ‘open’ and ‘frank’ with all future employers about my illness.
It was this same friend, who happened to be in London a few weeks ago when I had just made another big decision with regards to leaving my job as a public servant after 11 loyal and dedicated years due to my treatment surrounding discrimination.
The point is, she happened to be in London when I had just made one big decision closing a chapter on my life and at another upon opening a new one and didn’t know anything about either – spooky, I thought!
At the Tackling Depression event today at UCL, Alastair Campbell said something in his introduction about his own experiences which ‘really’ struck a chord with me. He spoke about being ‘open’ with employers, about your depression.
The thing I had just decided upon, before even getting to the event. The second ‘spookiness’, of the day.
There was an opportunity after listening to the four speakers to ask questions, and I didn’t want to miss the chance. I asked Alastair whether he could give me and others any further advice, with regards to declaring your mental health to prospective employers.
Now, he may have been a Spin Doctor as opposed to a medical one for the Labour Government but he really does know how to engage with people. He answered my question directly to me, as if it was just us two in the room. You can’t buy that ‘people person’ skills.
Being open is the only way for me now really, as with the publicity surrounding My Fight for Justice and illness unfortunately I cannot ever go ‘back’ into the closet. I mean in today’s social networking world, any switched-on new employer only has to do a Google search etc, to find out about potential employees.
Not that I would hide my depression, but just wouldn’t want to shout it from the rooftops. That said, you have to play with the cards you’ve been dealt.
Alastair just backed up what I had thought myself, reinforcing my view.
Having never met me before, he said that my asking a question of him in such a public forum ‘was’ me dealing with what I had decided and that he thought somebody like me would have no problem in getting new employment.
My Manchester friend too said that, a new employer would love my skills, abilities and diversity – something, it would embrace.
I don’t need compliments, as I try to be humble about things in life but what did surprise me is how ‘others’ see me and how I come across. Well, some. Obviously, my friend is bias but Alastair Campbell had never met me or heard of me before?
I know this to be true because, when I joined the queue to buy two of his books about depression he asked if it was ‘Kelvin’ as opposed to Kevin. How rude, I thought – but, my mum called me Kelvin which is another story 😮
These times of austerity are a concern to me, but that shouldn’t deter one from seeking out new opportunities in a place you will be valued and appreciated not just for what you do, but for who and what you are. Respect both ways, is the bottom line for me.
In finishing his answer to my question Alastair said that I was in a fortunate position, my brain trying to work out how?
He said that, by declaring my battle with depression to future employers those who don’t want somebody like me working for them will be weeded out of the process to my benefit. An excellent way I thought, of looking at things.
I know he was a Spin Doctor but, he did a pretty good job of giving me that bit more confidence. It was said genuinely, and it was free.
So, another eventful day in my life as I continue along the journey of a new start and new hope.
For those like me who suffer with depression and want some advice and support, or if you think you may be depressed the following organisations can be of great help:
Mind… for better mental health – www.mind.org.uk
Rethink… mental illness – www.rethink.org
Time to Change… let’s end mental health discrimination – www.time-to-change.org.uk
This has been a… Tackling Depression, the Alastair Campbell way, ‘View from the Bottom’.
Take care, Max x.
Live Healthy, Laugh Often & Love Yourself!
Published by My Mum. Copyright © Kevin Maxwell Film, Media & Performance 2012.