I've tried to start writing this post a few times. Mental health is a difficult topic to speak about in itself, and struggling with your own mental health can make it even more difficult.
While this post is difficult to write, I want to be open about it. I hope that this can help other people feel like they can talk about their mental health too.
Since I was in my early teenage years, I've struggled with low moods and low self-esteem. My way of dealing with it has been to either to accept it and put up with feeling like that, or ignore it and carry on.
But a couple of months ago, I found out some things that made me realise that I'd not been coping with my mental health properly and that my way to deal with it wasn't great.
I decided that I needed to speak with a doctor and get some help with it. One of the effects of my struggle with mental health was that my low self-esteem meant that I didn't want to put my problems on other people. Looking back at it now this is ridiculous, but it meant that I hadn't been registered with a doctor since I moved out of my parents' house. My first step was to get this sorted.
I found that you can do a large portion of the registration process online, which hugely reduced the barrier for me. After doing the online part, I had to go in and organise an appointment with the nurse to finalise everything. The whole process took a few weeks in total.
After registering, I could book an appointment. Again, this was something I could do online which made me feel way more comfortable doing it.
A few weeks later, I had my appointment with the doctor. She was very friendly and made me feel comfortable discussing the way that I felt and the issues I was having. In the weeks leading up to the appointment, I'd started creating a list on my phone of things that I wanted to mention and this really helped me too.
The doctor said that there was nothing that she could do directly, but told me to use the Leeds IAPT self-referral system. This is an online process where you fill out some forms and questionnaires about the issues that you're facing. It took me about half an hour, but I filled it out on my phone during the bus ride to work after the appointment.
The questionnaires ask some questions such as how often you feel low and how often you felt little interest in doing things. This can be difficult to judge yourself on, especially if you've been living with a mental health issue for a while and it has become a somewhat normal part of your life. It also states to only look at the previous 2 weeks, which can greatly skew the outcome if you've had a good couple of weeks.
Due to the number of people that refer themselves, the IAPT says that it may be up to 5 weeks before they contact you. For me, I was contacted by email about 3 weeks later but was told that based on my results they may not be the most suitable service. As I'd had a couple of good weeks before I'd filled out the questionnaire, they asked me to fill it out again but as if I'd had a couple of bad weeks.
Shortly after I'd emailed back my updated questionnaire, I got a phone call from them. I was told that based on my results I had moderately severe depression and they gave me a few options.
First, they told me about the online resources they offer so that people can try and help themselves. Next, I was told about a couple of short group-based courses that try and give people an understanding of how to cope and deal with depression. Finally, I was told about one-to-one therapy.
As we discussed it, I didn't feel like the online resources would help me so we discounted that. I was then told that the one-to-one therapy has a 9-month waiting list and that by going on one of the courses, I join the waiting list anyway.
One of the key differences between the courses for me was how involved I have to be as a participant. I'm still very uncomfortable speaking about my mental health in person, especially to a group of strangers. This made me opt to go for the "depression recovery course", which is a low-involvement course that's split into weekly 90 minute sessions over a period of 6 weeks. Because of my prior commitments to speaking at the Fullstack and ScotlandJS conferences, I couldn't start the next available course, so I was signed up to the following one. I start on the 28th of August.
I'm still unsure how much it'll actually help me, but I'm trying to be open minded and I'll hopefully learn as much as I can. If it ends up not helping, then at least I tried and I can see what the next step is. It's a start.
Finally, I'm really thankful to everyone who's been supportive and helpful so far. Being comfortable and able to talk about a difficult topic like mental health with someone helps a lot and I'm incredibly lucky that I have friends, co-workers and an excellent manager that I've been able to talk about it with.
Thanks to Beth North for reading through this before I posted it