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Support for an experience of depression

Many people find mental illness difficult to acknowledge to themselves and their families. In Guy Baker’s case it felt even more difficult because, as one of the eldest in his generation on both sides of his family, and as a family spokesperson that others looked up to, his family relied on him for advice, so he wasn’t used to asking for help for himself.

However, Guy chose not only to share his experience of depression with his work colleagues at the Gisborne District Council, he also spoke up publicly about his journey in the Gisborne Herald during Mental Health Awareness Week 2012.

Guy’s road towards depression and back again was fraught with drinking (which masked his symptoms), difficulty sleeping, and two incidents of self-harm that left him shaken.

That is when he was sure that something was wrong. He sought knowledge online, then advice from his family doctor who diagnosed his depression in January 2012.

It's hard to talk about depression

Initially Guy had no intention of talking about his depression with those outside his family, as he was afraid of what they might think and say, but the medication he was taking left him still feeling the effects of the prescription in the mornings and it was affecting his performance at work.

“I discussed the issue with my manager and decided I would rather tell other colleagues so they could understand why things were tough for me,” he explains.

As Guy had already planned to tell part of his story in the Gisborne Herald, he thought that sharing his story in the staff newsletter the day before the newspaper article was published would be appropriate.

Overwhelming support

He was not sure what kind of reactions to expect. He was pleasantly surprised.

“I received 22 internal emails – all supportive and congratulating me on my bravery.

“When the article appeared in the Gisborne Herald that evening, my phone was busy the following morning with people ringing and saying they didn’t realise what I was going through.

“The support I received was amazing. People spoke about their own and their families’ experiences of mental illness. I never expected the level of support I received.”

Guy says that every call, email and Facebook message he’s received has been positive and given him a great sense of relief and confidence in sharing his experiences.

Employee assistance programme

Along with collegial support, the Gisborne District Council has a solid employee assistance programme, which supports Guy and helps him maintain productivity and wellbeing. It also provides Guy with the flexibility he needs when he has "down days".

Guy sees value in being able to talk to a professional, or someone else you trust, about how you feel, but acknowledges that sharing your experience is a very personal decision.

“If you are that trusted person, keep your friend or family member’s confidence, be there for them and ride with them on the journey, because it is not an easy one,” he advises.

Telling his own story has helped other colleagues reach out to seek Guy’s advice about their depression.

“I’ve now been asked by work to fill a support role – where people who feel they might be depressed know they can come to me,” he says.

“We’ve had one good outcome and that person is receiving professional help now.

“Sharing my story with others is hard, but if doing that extends a hand towards someone who might be struggling with their own issues and helps them overcome that dark tunnel, I am happy to do it,” he says.

“Things are a hell of a lot better now.”

Diet, exercise and lifestyle

During his recovery Guy took up Zumba, waka ama, climbed Mt Hikurangi (Gisborne) and is training for the Iron Maori, a team triathlon, and Tu Marae, the marae-to-marae duathlon.

Guy has lost 35 kilos and changed his diet as well as his lifestyle. He’s also almost completed his Bachelor degree in Iwi Environmental Management.

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