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Mental health stories: Vulnerability can bring people together

Brandon from Deloitte Africa opens up about managing his chronic depression as part of our series aiming to reduce societal stigma around mental health.

When you think about how much time we spend with colleagues compared to even our partners and family, the question isn’t so much ‘how can you be open?’ but rather ‘how can you not?’. Organisations are made up of human beings. We all have our own experiences and emotions, and you rarely know from outward appearances what people might be going through behind closed doors.

I’ve come to value my colleagues as friends and a second family and have found that being open about my own struggles with mental health and the difficult experiences I’ve been through has helped solidify my relationships and build trust with the people around me. My vulnerability has become my strength and being open about my mental health has carried through into my approach to everything I do at work. This transparency helps build trust in my integrity as a professional, which further strengthens my bond with my workmates.

But I don’t see being open about mental health as a choice. For me, bottling up my emotions is destructive and makes my depression and anxiety worse. I’ve been living with dysthymia--a chronic form of depression--for several years. I had a difficult relationship with my mother in my teens and trust deteriorated between us. The day I came out as gay saw the final reserves of trust evaporate. My mum disowned me and told me she was too embarrassed to be seen with me in public. At the age of 19 I decided to leave home and didn’t speak to my mum, stepdad, or little sister for around five years. Having grown up in a strongly catholic family, I also lost my faith when I left.

I was hurt, isolated, angry and struggling to pay for university on my own via a part time job. My depression escalated and I internalised my pain, channelling my feelings of hate against myself. I felt like a useless failure and berated myself for not living up to the ideals of what a man is ‘supposed’ to be. On entering the world of work, I tried to compensate for my low self-worth by overworking, all the while being plagued by insomnia, anxiety and depression.

I was on a downward spiral but when I started to experience suicidal thoughts, I knew I had to ask for help and opened up to colleagues and friends. My manager gave me the contact details of a psychologist and this truly changed my life. I began an intense course of therapy and started taking medication, which really helped bring my depression and anxiety under control.

Then, a chance encounter happened that helped complete the missing part of the puzzle. While out house hunting with my partner, a car pulled up next to ours at the traffic lights and it turned out that my estranged stepdad, mum and sister were in the other car! When my stepdad called out, my first reaction was pure panic. To cut a long story short, this was the start of my reconciliation with my mum and my family. Hugging my mum for the first time in years, I let go of the hatred and disappointment and began rebuilding my relationship with her based on trust, peace and love.

Today, I’m no longer taking medication and proactively managing my depression. And a great source of comfort has been rediscovering my faith. Reconciling being LGBT+ and catholic isn’t always easy but I draw strength from my direct relationship with God and it’s helped me accept the things that I can’t control.

Beside this, I find strength in spending time with my family, as well as friends and the LGBT+ community. And I’ve chosen to be open about what I’ve experienced with those around me, including at work and found that this has helped people feel they can be open back. Being able to share my story helps give my negative experiences purpose, especially when other people can find comfort in knowing that they’re not alone and feel able to confide in me. I also hope that, when people see what a fundamental difference asking for help and getting the right professional treatment made to my life, it will encourage others to take that step.

It can feel like a risk to be vulnerable but daring to be open with those around you can make an enormous impact on people’s lives.

Brandon, Deloitte Africa

Deloitte’s mental health story series aims to break down barriers to talking about mental health. It is not intended to – and does not - offer advice nor substitute professional mental health support. If you are experiencing mental ill health or are concerned about someone else’s mental health, please contact your national or local helpline or healthcare provider for support.