In 2016, I had a nervous breakdown and was signed off work for four months after being diagnosed with anxiety and depression.
My mental health had been deteriorating for a while. I had experienced a few episodes of poor mental health previously, but nothing as bad as this. It was a frightening time as I didn't understand what was happening to me, I felt alone and didn't want to admit to myself or anyone else that I wasn't coping and needed help. Instead, I poured all my energy into covering up the way I felt.
Within the space of a couple of months, my self-esteem plummeted. I lost more than a stone in weight, and was constantly exhausted as I couldn't stop thinking which prevented me from sleeping. At work, I was often on the verge of tears and, even though I had good relationships with my teams and even considered some people to be friends, I steadily withdrew from contact.
One evening when I was out playing football I became overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness. I turned round and went straight back home where I confided in my wife that I couldn't cope anymore and desperately needed help.
I knew I needed to take action and, with my family's support I was able to take the right steps to get the help I needed. I called Accenture's BUPA Healthy Minds helpline and took up the course of counselling offered. I talked to my doctor and we agreed a course of medication, and perhaps most importantly I started talking to people I trusted and educating myself about what I was dealing with.
My life is very different now. I have learned how to manage my thoughts and emotions by putting into practice the tools and techniques that work for me. I have prioritized the importance of sleep, nutrition and exercise for my overall physical and mental health and well-being. I have clear boundaries for my work and personal life. I still do a monthly check-in with my counsellor and plan to continue that for my own mental fitness.
When I returned to work, I decided to speak out about my experience. I was struck by the support I received and the number of people who came forward and told me how mental health issues have impacted their lives or those of their family and friends.
My experience has made me want to help others and I am now a very active member of and trainer for Accenture's Mental Health Allies programme, a volunteer-based initiative open to all employees at Accenture who are keen to learn more about mental health and understand how they might support colleagues facing mental health issues. Although we are not officially trained counsellors or therapists, we can speak - and more importantly listen - to employees confidentially and provide signposts to professional support networks. The Allies programme has been a real success and Accenture now has more than 1,300 trained Mental Health Allies in the UK - it just goes to show that this is an issue that touches us all in some way, as everyone who struggles with mental health at some point is someone's friend, parent, child or sibling.
Talking about mental health is critical to recovery - the importance of being able to talk and be listened to properly without shame and without the fear of being judged cannot be underestimated. Looking back, I can see that this experience has positively changed my work and my life. I wish I'd sought help earlier before things got out of control.