When I was 19 I had a good job, great salary, and a company car. I thought life was turning out fine. Then, suddenly, the company I was working for laid people off and I lost my job. Things started going wrong from that point on.
I couldn’t find another job and it was like I lost my sense of purpose. I started drinking and smoking weed every day and then got in trouble with the law. My mum got fed up with me and threw me out. I spent seven months homeless – spending my nights in snooker clubs, pubs and stolen cars. I knew I was in a vicious circle but I just couldn’t see a way out. I’d been so close to getting what I wanted but now my life was going nowhere. When I was alone I felt incredibly down and cried a lot. At times, I thought killing myself was the only answer.

I finally got somewhere to live but by then I was in trouble with the law again. And then, four different people in my family died. That was my real low point. I just felt terrible all the time, a deep deep sense of despair. Suicide became a real option. One day my probation officer said he thought I might be seriously depressed. At first I thought it was rubbish. I had no idea that depression could be an illness. Anything to do with mental health just made me think of “loony bins” and “nutters” – and there was no way I was one of them.

I said “Why not?” It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Through them, I’ve had support from a key worker, a project worker, and a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist gave me a book to read about depression and it was like reading about myself. I was still worried about being branded a “loony” but I finally felt I understood what was happening to me – which meant I could do something about it. We worked on a plan to help me deal with my depression. Importantly, I also felt that people really cared about what happened to me. That emotional support has helped me open up and start talking about my feelings – something which a lot of blokes find really hard to do.
It’s taken a while, but I finally feel my life is back on track. I’ve got a flat, a girlfriend, and a baby girl, and I’m doing a lot of studying. My main concern at the moment is getting employment – what with a criminal record as well as having been diagnosed with depression. The ironic thing is, I know that I’ve got more to offer an employer because of what I’ve been through. I’m really sorted about what I want out of life now and in a lot of ways, the things I’ve gone through have made me stronger.

People really need to open their minds about mental health. It affects so many of us, but ignorance holds us back from knowing what’s going on. And then fear stops us reaching out and getting support. I’m just glad I got help when I did. Otherwise, for me, it might have been too late.

Darren is 23, and lives in London. He was diagnosed with depression when he was 19.

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