46, NHS DIRECTOR
‘On the day I was admitted to an acute psychiatric ward, I showered, put on my suit and drove to a 9am meeting in London to advise an NHS executive team on how they could improve quality. Never mind that my doctor had diagnosed me with depression 10 days earlier and I was on the verge of ending my life. I had a job to do.
After the meeting, I walked to my car and just fell apart. Something told me if I started the car, I’d wind up dead. Sobbing in the driver’s seat, I called my local crisis response team, who asked me to come into hospital for a couple of nights. I knew staff on the ward would recognise a senior NHS director crying uncontrollably, unable to speak or walk, but I was past caring.
I thought I’d be in hospital for two or three days. I ended up staying for three months. For the first four weeks, my mind hummed over how I could kill myself, and I came close to suicide many times. It is testament to the attentiveness of the staff that I didn’t. I was lucky enough to be cared for in one of the two mental health NHS Trusts in England ranked outstanding by the Care Quality Commission. Had I been admitted elsewhere, I might not have had such a high level of care. When I was discharged, the extreme anxiety I felt made me a prisoner in my own home for another three months.
A long career in mental health taught me that people do get better. But not everyone knows that. People kill themselves because they believe they will never recover, and that’s why the culture of silence around mental illness is so dangerous.
It’s why, on one of my darkest days, I took a picture of myself. I wanted to document how desperate I felt, so that when I did eventually feel better, I could post it online to prove that recovery is possible. That picture and story have since been shared over a million times. Almost a year on, I feel like myself again and 100% recovered. I’m back working; I’m laughing with the friends who gave unwavering support; and I’m sharing my story with every NHS director of nursing. Depression feels unbearable. But recovery is possible.’
‘I went from managing nurses to being a suicidal patient’