My Story

Why am I speaking out and raising awareness about work-related depression? Because it happened to me, and not just once. Whilst training for a career in the Law and during my subsequent career as a teacher, I became ill with severe depression. My illness was caused primarily by excessive workloads and lack of support. Both experiences left me unable to contemplate the idea of returning to either profession, and probably contributed to my desire to be self-employed. My first bout of depression lasted six months, and I recovered by getting into health and fitness, and getting into running which really helped (even though I realise how difficult it is to exercise when you’re ill). My second bout of depression lasted three years, and I really didn’t believe that I would get better. It took so long to find the right medication and to feel like me again. Luckily I now feel fulfilled as a self-employed copywriter and raising awareness about mental health, especially workplace mental health.

My third bout of depression followed redundancy from the only job that I really loved (in copywriting). After this experience I ended up in hospital and had Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) treatment. There is still quite a big stigma around ECT but it absolutely worked for me and I quickly was back to my normal self.

My bouts of illness were truly awful and I wouldn’t wish severe depression on my worst enemy. It was like my brain had switched off or flatlined, and I was literally only able to stare at the wall. I think I blamed myself for not being able to succeed in these very stressful and difficult careers and thought that it was my fault that I couldn’t continue in these roles. The reality was that I was given too much to do and it was impossible for anyone to success in the situations I was in. These kind of roles require a strong support system in place during the first year to succeed, and I definitely did not have access to that. When I asked for help, I was basically told to get on with it. Whilst I was teaching, other teachers who were much more experienced than me were also being signed off sick with stress and depression. I know it wasn’t just my problem. With staff dropping like flies, I wondered how people carry on doing these jobs that push them to the limit and often demand 60 to 80 hour weeks.

I also experienced and witnessed bullying in the workplace on numerous occasions. People who were dedicated and great at their jobs being treated with a lack of respect and overloaded with work. Excessive workloads caused by job cuts, departmental restructuring and long term sickness were all too common. In some cases people were doing the work of two or three people. Excellent staff members who have committed themselves to an organisation for years, eventually unable to go to work and provide for their family because of money being put before people. I knew that something had to be done.

The combination of excessive workloads, office politics, lack of support and bullying was enough to make me realise that I was never going to happy with working for someone else anymore. I often didn’t see the point behind what I was doing. Many processes and procedures were overcomplicated and created extra, unnecessary work. I never felt totally happy and fulfilled in any job I did, and I worked out that including temp jobs I had had 27 jobs in 20 years. Nowadays its common for people to have more jobs than in the past, but for me it was like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

Now I’m a self-employed copywriter and blogger, and I’ve self-published my memoir, Awakened on Amazon. I started my blog, The Avant Garde about five years ago because I knew deep down that I needed a creative outlet and I rediscovered my passion for writing. This led to my copywriting job, which was the first job I’d ever loved. Unfortunately I was made redundant after a few months, but later I went into self-employment as a copywriter and freelance writer. I believe that my experiences have made me stronger and prepared me for the ups and downs of self-employment. But I don’t recommend going to hell and back to find the right career and a good work/life balance, so I want to help others who might feel lost or on the wrong path to feel better quickly.

I have set up this site with the aim of helping those who are suffering from workplace depression to understand what is happening to them, and to get better and get on with their lives, and find fulfilling work. It also has a preventative aim – to raise awareness about workplace depression to so that people can identify what is happening to them before it gets too severe. Prevention is better than cure, so educating young adults about the condition before they enter the workplace is also important. By speaking at events regionally, nationally and internationally about workplace depression I hope to raise awareness, help those that are already suffering and ideally stop it from being part of people’s lives in the first place.

Debbie Stokoe

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