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Mental health worker speaks of his depression

PUBLISHED: 07:00 15 April 2010 | UPDATED: 09:43 02 July 2010

Stephen Pullinger

Manning a mental health awareness display, James Butcher is the last person you would think of suffering from depression.

Positive, full of energy and with an easy smile he is the embodiment of someone who seems on top of his job and life in general.

Manning a mental health awareness display, James Butcher is the last person you would think of suffering from depression.

Positive, full of energy and with an easy smile he is the embodiment of someone who seems on top of his job and life in general.

But when patients he meets in his role as support worker at Yarmouth's Northgate Hospital tell him he does not know how they feel, he can confidently reply: “Yes I do.”

For little more than 10 years ago, James, 37, was a high-flying store manager taking rapid promotions in his stride as he was moved around the East of England.

But although he loved his job and was regarded as one of the company's rising stars, he recalled the day he arrived at work and decided he could not do it any more.

He said: “I went off sick for two weeks and never went back. Initially I was diagnosed as suffering from stress and then doctors said I had anxiety and depression. After a while they realised I was seriously ill and needed help.”

James, speaking as he manned the display at in Great Yarmouth's Market Gates shopping centre, recalls how he sank further into depression and ended up in Hellesdon Hospital, near Norwich for three months before he responded successfully to drug therapy.

He said: “I resigned from my job but my experience is proof that there does not have to be any stigma attached to mental illness. When I felt well enough I applied for three jobs, being totally honest about my illness - and I was offered all of them.”

After a spell working for Norwich Union, he joined the mental health team at Northgate Hospital five years ago.

“The job specifically requested someone who had gone through mental illness and I thought it would be a way of making some sense of what had happened to me,” he said.

Working on the acute ward, which has more of a homely than a hospital atmosphere, James underlines how far treatment has progressed since his experience.

“The approach is far more holistic nowadays involving a whole team of people, including nurses, social workers and occupational therapists,” he said.

“We will look at someone's housing and other things that could have contributed to their illness.”

Admitting someone to hospital was not the only route these days; often it was possible to treat people at home or even in their workplace.

James said although his own illness had seemed inexplicable at the time, with hindsight he could recall growing telltale symptoms such as interrupted sleep patterns and loss of appetite.

He urged people to take heed of such early warnings and not be afraid to seek help from their GP.

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