Comment – Beware the black dog…

There is no shame in depression.

I did not intend to write about Mental Health Awareness Week again. Come to think of it, I never set out to write about Mental Health Awareness Week yesterday either; but sometimes these things just happen.

I thought a lot about that previous article overnight and I realise that, like many others, I have been touched by depression and mental health issues my entire life. My father was (and is) a depressive, prone to inexplicable dark moods; a few years back, my former business partner took his own life; and I too have been visited by what Winston Churchill famously described as the “black dog of depression”. This came as a huge surprise to me as I had previously dismissed the very concept of depression as social worker-speak for “having a bad day”.

I learned very little from my father’s depression other than it was generally best to let him work it out for himself and that it would generally pass in a day or two. I learned nothing from my own bout other than the fact that I was probably the only person that couldn’t see the state I was in or the effect it was having on those around me.

But I learned something from my former partner’s tragic and untimely suicide; and, with the benefit of hindsight, feel that I or someone might have done more.

The guy in question was one of emotional extremes: he was either UP, or he was down. There was no grey, merely black or white. Having worked with him for the best part of 15 years, I had grown accustomed and immune to his mood swings. But the signs were there for all to see.

His blackest moods would generally last for a day or two, a week at most. In the final months of his life, however, the clouds didn’t lift for several months. He “disappeared” from the office once and was found in a layby in a highly emotional state. He would make then cancel client meetings for no apparent reason. He would bemoan his personal finances one minute, then buy an expensive car the next.

As working people, we often spend more time with those with whom we work than with those that we love. We are, therefore, more likely to spot early signs of depression and mental illness like prolonged bad moods, irrational behaviour and emotional outbursts.

Could I have prevented my partner’s suicide? Probably not. He had been carrying his suicide note with him for several weeks before he took his own life and was clearly determined to “end it all”. But, armed with the 20:20 focus of hindsight, I do believe that I might have recognised the signs before it was too late.