Firefighter Andrew writes about his struggle with social anxiety and depression, and the importance of talking about mental health.
When I was growing up, I was diagnosed with social anxiety. I couldn't go out for a meal, couldn't go to the pub. I never used to eat anything before getting on a bus or in a car, because I'd feel sick. I remember once going to a pub and someone started talking to me, and I had to walk away. That can send the wrong messages to people.
I knew when I joined the fire service, aged 26, that I needed to see a doctor to get something done about it. I knew I wouldn't be able to go to training school or sit in lecture theatres because I'd feel trapped.
So I went to see a doctor, I had some counselling and medication and it cured me. But because of my anxiety I found it difficult to integrate myself with other people. I couldn't go out to the pub and socialise, so there was always "he's not one of us, he sits in a corner".
It's a very complicated thing. It's not about being sad [...] it's an imbalance of hormones in the brain.
It was later on in my career, after I went through a divorce, that I started to suffer from depression. It's a very complicated thing. It's not about being sad – people said 'What have you got to be sad about?' – it's an imbalance of hormones in the brain.
In the fire service, we are exposed to some tragic, horrible incidents. But you can keep on top of those situations. The ability to talk about a problem with someone makes a world of difference. It's amazing. Just talking about it can almost release some of it out of your body. And if you keep bottling it up it will come out in the end.
The ability to talk about a problem with someone makes a world of difference. It's amazing.
It can be life-destroying, because you can end up taking your problems out on other people. But talking about them and getting assistance can help. If you want to get help, there are so many organisations out there that can help.
Occupational health have supported me 100% over the past four years, and my family has been fantastic. You have to find a person you can talk to. There needs to be someone available 24 hours a day in the workplace that someone like me can go to. Someone who knows your situation.
I hope in the future people will talk a bit more about mental health, because the more you talk about it the more it improves.
Unfortunately, there is still a stigma. I hope in the future people will talk a bit more about mental health, because the more you talk about it the more it improves. If you can talk to somebody, if you can find someone suffering from the same problems, it's a great help to know you are not the only one.
Things do work out. I wouldn't change my experience because it has turned out very positively for me. I feel that my mental health is brilliant now. I've been through the wringer, but I've got over my situation and I am in a position now to help others. And I'm in a very happy place now, working for myself and having control over my own destiny. Everything is perfect.
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