The greatest obstacle during my own recovery from depression has been embarrassment, or uncertainty, about asking for medical support. Even at my lowest points, when I've been self-harming or planning suicide, and relatives and doctors have begged me to admit myself to hospital, I've refused, because I've been unsure about what to expect. Based on my own experiences, this is an outline of each step in the depression recovery process – who to talk to, what will happen and how it may be helpful.
It's a long road to feeling well again but you don't have to walk it alone.
This first step, unfortunately, is the hardest. It involves admitting to yourself that you have a medical problem, admitting that, like anyone else who's ill, you deserve to be treated. You have to build up to this. The NHS Depression Test might help validate how you're feeling.
When you see your doctor, be honest. Try and tell them precisely how you've been feeling. If you haven't been treated for mental health before, they'll give you a questionnaire to try and gauge the nature of your illness. Again, be truthful.
At this first appointment you'll probably be prescribed an anti-depressant. Your doctor will explain any side effects and mitigating circumstances, all of which are nothing to be scared of, and book you in for another appointment in two to four weeks. A lot of people may feel like they've been fobbed off or not taken seriously after this first point of contact. That isn't the case.
It takes a while to assess the nature of a mental health problem and doctors need to see how you respond to your tablets. It's hard, but you have to be patient. In the interim between GP appointments you can contact services such as the Samaritans or your local NHS Crisis Team if your problems become worse.
Applying for NHS counselling is usually a three-step process.
First, your GP will give you a phone number for the local mental health team. Your initial contact with them will be to arrange a longer, telephone-based assessment in the next two weeks. Try to book a time when you'll be alone and available to speak for around 45 minutes.
The counselling service will then call you, at your appointed time, to conduct the phone assessment. Similar to the test your GP may have given you, they'll ask questions about how you feel, how things have been different recently, how you've been sleeping and so on.
Once the telephone assessment is done, the service will add you to their waiting list and set up your first face-to-face appointment with a counsellor. Unfortunately, this waiting period can be anything between four weeks and two months, depending how busy they are. But in the meantime, you can still get support from your doctor and the other services mentioned earlier.
Your course of counselling will usually last between 10 and 12 weeks, with an hour-long session once a week. You'll always see the same person and they can be flexible to fit around your working hours.
My only advice for when you're there is try not to be shy. Get it all out. There's no need to feel guilty – your counsellor went through years of training so he'd be able to sit across from you. You're safe to talk in there and no-one will judge you. Relax.
Your Crisis Team
Like anyone else with any other kind of emergency, you can check yourself into A&E with mental health concerns. The hospital will set you up with the crisis team. Your first contact with them will be a one to two-hour meeting at the hospital, during which time they'll outline what kind of support they think you need to help you through your crisis.
They'll assign you a home visitation counsellor, who will visit you at your house every day to check in on how you feel and how you're progressing. These people are punctual, caring and very friendly. They will help you a lot.
The crisis team may also give you appointments to see a psychologist, who operates outside of the local counselling service outlined earlier. Again, they will visit you at home. With depression and anxiety, I personally struggle to go outside some days, so having these people come to me is a major help.
Alongside your GP and your counsellor, the crisis team will constantly be available to support you. They'll provide you with a phone number that is available 24 hours a day and, in extraneous circumstances, stay with you, in person, for as long as you need. Remember, your illness is real, and the people you speak to have trained and volunteered to help. They want to be there. They want you to get better.
Curing depression doesn't cure you of being you. It cures you of being someone else. It cures you of not being able to talk and act the way you'd like to. This illness is like a parasite, that's crawled inside you and is influencing the way you think in order to make itself stronger.
Recovery isn't easy. It's a long process filled with a lot of emotional ups and downs. But living with depression is much harder than recovering from it. It's a slow death, which gradually and deliberately destroys everything in your life except for itself. You can and will get better. There are people out there, right now, ready to help you. If you think today is the day you're ready to make the first step, then please, pick up the phone and call your doctor. There's nothing to be scared of.
The Samaritans provides a free support service for those who need to talk to someone. They can be contacted through their website or on 08457 90 90 90, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call charges apply.