In the past 2 years I have worked very closely with many organisations across the North East to change their cultures in how they think, talk and act when it comes to the mental health of their employees.
I have met some amazingly passionate people in that time, all with a fire in their bellies to be mental health advocates and use their lived experience to break down the stigma of mental ill health. Andy is one of them..........
My name is Andrew David Wallace, known to most as Andy. I am married to Diane and have a daughter, Kate (10).
An event in January 1974, when I was 7 years old, unbeknown to me at the time, was to impact my life in ways I could never, ever have imagined. I can recall my Mother telling my sister and I that Dad had died ….. Everything else is a blur. Life went on. I had a great childhood.
By 19 I’d done quite well at school and was in London at University. But in the summer of 1984, prior to going to college, a good friend of mine, who had suffered a terrible loss in her family, made a comment that planted a seed in my mind. “Suicide”… My Dad?
Away from home a year later, increasing concerns and doubts plagued my mind – at Christmas, back home…. I had to be drunk to ask my Mum the question. December 1985, I found out my father had taken his own life, after many years of mental health issues – medication, surgery – it had all become too much. He couldn’t cope and thought he was doing the best for his family. Those he loved more than any other. Stigma, culture of the day dictated – “don’t tell the children”.
My world, back in London – descended rapidly into a world of confusion, self-doubt, desperation. Over a period of 6-8 weeks my life became a room, no doors. No way out.
I got home, somehow - was helped, supported and my education about “Mental Health” began. This journey has brought me (and continues to bring me) into contact with some amazing people. I recovered, returned to study, worked……
By my early 30’s I was married to Diane, working, enjoying life and looking forward to having a family. On reflection I should have been well prepared for the mental challenges ahead. However, the journey was not smooth. Multiple miscarriages, IVF for my wife – no children. A period of seven years passed. Great holidays, work was fine - everything was good?
Again, out of my geographic comfort zone at a course in Bournemouth, the opportunity of a lifetime and the chance to provide greater support to my family, my Mum. We suffered another shattering loss – my mental health descended rapidly. I was back in that room, no doors – one option in my mind, ruminating at a pace I was aware of from the days in 1986. Dark days.
Again, I had incredible and immediate support on my return home. It took me some time to recover and begin to understand again.
On both of the above occasions I was incapacitated, just as you would be if you broke your legs. I couldn’t leave the house, the room –it took some time to recuperate. At times I thought this was it – I’d never recover. I was burdened with a condition that was not “fixable”?
I was offered incredible support by the then CEO – it gave me much peace and reassurance for which I will always be grateful. Over time I learned that both old, distant events and current challenges can conspire to cause you problems. Some you can control, others you have to learn to deal with – but this does not have to be by yourself. That “stiff upper lip” attitude is one of the many reasons we see so many suicides. The stigma why many never escape and enjoy life to the full.
We all have a history as well as having to meet today’s challenges, every single day. Talking, supporting and breaking down stigmas are key. Many people stay mentally healthy and don’t get into crisis – but
talking and sharing experiences helps build resilience and eradicate ignorance – wherever you are with your own mental welfare (which changes daily, weekly…..).
After the death of Sally Allan, I spoke to Sally’s son, Dave, who is a very good friend of mine. We compared our experiences. Ever since I have admired the amazing passion and strength that the Allan’s’ have shown – to do all in their power to stop families enduring their experience.
Workplace initiatives are absolutely fundamental to us all improving the mental health awareness of ourselves, friends, families and those we work with. We spend so much time here, face so many challenges and can learn from other people’s experiences. Change, the pace of our lives, elderly parents, loss, anxiety, stress – some we can control, others we can deal with much better if are resilient, aware, forearmed and supportive.
It is my heartfelt view that when mental health is treated on a par with physical health we will have reached a watershed in our development. I now live in a room with lots of doors and open windows and, like many of the good friends I’ve met along the way, want everyone to share that experience. I know many people who open metaphorical doors for me every time I see them.
My life has been one that has been predominantly mentally healthy, punctuated by short episodes of illness. Mental health is not all about mental illness, but about learning and better understanding ourselves. The time to change is now well and truly here – I am very proud that the airport is embracing it. Very proud indeed.
We all have mental health.
If you have a lived experience or a story which you would like us to share on our blog please email firstname.lastname@example.org, we would love to hear from you.