YOU PUT UP YOUR GUARD AND HIDE BE­HIND YOUR FACE’ Af­ter 40 years, Warwick is on cusp of beat­ing de­pres­sion

Wales On Sunday - - NEWS - TOM HOUGHTON Re­porter tom.houghton@waleson­line.co.uk

WARWICK Leek was a fit and healthy 20-some­thing work­ing as a civil ser­vant when he was med­i­cally di­ag­nosed with de­pres­sion back in the 1970s. With his job and liveli­hood at risk if his em­ploy­ers found out, Warwick did not even want to tell his fam­ily and friends be­cause of the huge stigma sur­round­ing men­tal health at the time.

Hav­ing given up his job over a decade ago due to the con­di­tion, Warwick, now 65, who lives in Gwaun­miskin, Rhondda Cynon Taf, has opened up about his 40-year bat­tle with de­pres­sion and how he is on the cusp of beat­ing it.

“I didn’t know what it was at first. I can re­mem­ber the doc­tor say­ing I was suf­fer­ing from it but I didn’t know what that meant. I knew it was a men­tal ill­ness but that was it.

“It first started as anx­i­ety. I got re­ally up­tight for no par­tic­u­lar rea­son at all, bor­der­ing on panic at­tacks.

“That then de­vel­oped into this black­ness – de­pres­sion. They are two very sim­i­lar things and in­ter­linked.” So how ex­actly does de­pres­sion feel? “You have noth­ing to look for­ward to,” Warwick ex­plained.

“You just feel empty and point­less. It’s a black feel­ing. Win­ston Churchill called it ‘tak­ing the black dog for a walk’. It’s an empty, black, hor­ri­ble feel­ing and there’s no way out of it.

“You don’t want to so­cialise, peo­ple would or­gan­ise things and say ‘there’s a party at a cer­tain time’ and I would say ‘yes’.

“I would be full of good in­ten­tions and was go­ing to go, but when it came to the ac­tual date, I just couldn’t face it. I didn’t lose friends but I did lose a lot of good times. You just don’t see the point of go­ing on.”

Un­like to­day, where dis­course about the con­di­tion is far more wide­spread, the con­di­tion in the ’70s meant he did not even want to tell his clos­est friends and fam­ily about it.

“I sup­pose I was wor­ried by the stigma of men­tal ill­ness. I couldn’t tell my em­ploy­ers be­cause of how it was per­ceived in the ’70s.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to say how it would have af­fected my job if my em­ploy­ers had known. I would have been moved on from what I was do­ing, pre­sum­ably. I didn’t want them to know I was vul­ner­a­ble. I didn’t want any­body to know at all – my friends, fam­ily.

“It was very dan­ger­ous to my health. I didn’t con­tem­plate tak­ing my own life, but I looked upon sui­cide as a way out – as an es­cape. I didn’t sit down and plan it but it was some­thing that was there as a fi­nal re­sort.”

Warwick said he dealt with the con­di­tion through a va­ri­ety of tech­niques, as well as be­ing on anti-de­pres­sants for decades.

He said: “I was lucky to have a very un­der­stand­ing doc­tor. He was very, very help­ful. Later on I dis­cov­ered mind­ful­ness and so now I med­i­tate ev­ery day. I also bought my­self a cross trainer. I work out on that ev­ery other day – at least three or five times a week which helps. Ex­er­cise is so im­por­tant. And of course my wife, Jen, has been tremen­dously sup­port­ive.

“A friend of mine told me he was suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion and I men­tioned to him that I was cop­ing with it too.

“He came back to me on Face­book and said, ‘I know you’re not suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion as you’re so laid back.’

“I was the last per­son he could imag­ine get­ting de­pres­sion be­cause of how I ap­peared in pho­tos, but you put up your guard and hide be­hind your face.”

Now Warwick is on his first week of be­ing off anti-de­pres­sants for 25 years.

He said: “I am man­ag­ing at the mo­ment with the help of my wife, mind­ful­ness and ex­er­cise. I am proud of my­self for deal­ing with it. I am still in the very first steps of try­ing to go on with­out med­i­ca­tion and ev­ery­thing be­ing OK. There’s been ups and downs and it’s not been to­tally smooth but hope­fully I will go on to not need med­i­ca­tion in the fu­ture.”

In terms of ad­vice for peo­ple with the con­di­tion, he said: “Get help and talk to some­body, a loved one. Hope­fully there will be some­one who loves them and un­der­stands. Seek med­i­cal help and have a good doc­tor who will sit down and talk to them.

“But the more it’s talked about, the bet­ter it is.”

Warwick spoke about his con­di­tion as he signed up to HealthWise Wales, the largest health pop­u­la­tion sur­vey in Wales, in a bid to play his part in in­form­ing ma­jor re­search into health con­di­tions.

It works by peo­ple aged 16 and over com­plet­ing an on­line sur­vey, and claims to be the first large-scale health re­search ini­tia­tive in Wales to col­late de­tailed in­for­ma­tion on the health and well-be­ing of peo­ple of all ages and back­grounds.

In­for­ma­tion gath­ered will be used to plan fu­ture health ser­vices and in­form rel­e­vant re­search on spe­cific con­di­tions, their man­age­ment and treat­ment.

He added: “I first heard about HealthWise Wales through Men­tal Health Wales’s news­let­ter and thought, the more peo­ple who un­der­stand de­pres­sion, the bet­ter, so I signed up.”

Warwick wants to en­cour­age peo­ple to sign up as he be­lieves that al­though men­tal health pro­vi­sion and un­der­stand­ing has come a long way since he was first di­ag­nosed, there is still a long way to go.

“HealthWise Wales is such a good idea, as the more peo­ple who share in­for­ma­tion, the bet­ter the un­der­stand­ing of men­tal health con­di­tions and other ma­jor health is­sues.”

To find out more visit www. health­wise­wales.gov.wales

PA­TRICK OLNER

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