Group Procurement Director
Living with depression

It took some time, but after living with periods of depression for many years, Paul Harlington embraced counseling and therapy. Now he emphasizes that it is not a weakness to seek help and support, saying “We all have mental health so let’s talk about it!” Paul manages his mental health with sleep, fitness, setting long-term goals, and speaking openly about his mental health to help others do the same.

Paul’s Story

Briefly, when were you first aware of your mental health condition? What was your most difficult time?

When I was 15 I hit a really low period and first contemplated suicide, and the longer it continued the more I realised it wasn’t just a teenage mood swing, it was something else.

I was diagnosed with depression when I was 23 and working in my early career. I lost my driving licence for speeding, and on the train on the way back from court I just broke down and didn’t recover. The next 6 weeks were spent hiding at work, going into the toilets to cry when I couldn’t take any more, or calling in sick and lying in bed. A director approached me about the issues, but I felt I couldn’t admit to them as they wouldn’t understand.

I eventually worked up the courage to go to the doctors, where I was diagnosed with clinical depression and put on anti-depressive medication.

What is your life like now? What does living well look like for you?

I am well today but I know I can never relax when it comes to mental health – like a cold, it could happen again at any time.

I use fitness as my main coping mechanism, sincerely believing in the Healthy Body – Health Mind principle and recognising the positive effects of endorphins.

I also set myself long-term challenges and goals, this ensures I am always looking to the future rather than the past.

What help or specific strategies helped you to get well and move to stability?

Unfortunately for some time I self-medicated with drinking and smoking. Addiction is a mental health disorder in its own right, and I was addicted to things that were making my condition worse.

Fortunately, I found an outlet in motorbike racing, which, whilst it became an addiction itself, replaced the drinking and smoking.

5 years ago I finally found a sustainable coping mechanism that worked for me – fitness. I competed in a charity boxing match and started running, and for the first time in my life I felt not only physically fit but mentally much stronger.

I also embraced counselling and therapy properly to address my childhood and adult experiences, and opened up to friends, family and teammates, knowing that it is so much more accepted to speak about these things now, and that it is not a weakness to seek help and support.

What do you do to manage your condition and stay healthy on an ongoing basis?

Besides fitness and setting long term goals, sleep and rest are additional strategies I use, as is avoiding alcohol. Many people simply don’t realise how negatively a lack of sleep or excess of alcohol can affect your mental wellbeing.

Talking about mental health, as well as being a passion of mine to help others, is one of my other coping mechanisms. Helping others releases the same sort of endorphins as exercise does and has a cumulative effect – the more people that do it the better the world is overall.

Are there positives that have come from having a mental health condition? If so, what?

I firmly believe that successfully managing a mental health condition causes you to be much more self-aware, and to practice more self-care.

It has also led me to be much more empathetic to others, and to practice a truly authentic and vulnerable leading style which I believe delivers better and more sustainable results.

How has your condition impacted your work and your career?

It hasn’t. I have and continue to be successful in my career – experiencing ill mental health at times is no barrier to success.

No senior leader is immune from experiencing ill mental health, and there is no evidence whatsoever that they suffer less than any other part of the organisation or population, so we have a moral and ethical responsibility to stand up and be counted, showing our companies and teams it truly is OK “not to be OK” and to speak about it.

What words of encouragement would you give to someone struggling with a condition similar to yours?

IT – WILL – GET – BETTER (I PROMISE).

Firstly: Seek help – immediately, don’t delay – whether it is counselling, talking to friends/family/anyone, or going to your doctor, any step you take is a step towards recovery.

Whatever you do: talk, talk and talk – talking will help put things into perspective and will quickly help alleviate some of the pressure you are feeling.

And, if you are prescribed medication then take it – whilst I am more a fan of prevention than medication, sometimes you will need that boost to kick start your recovery.

What motivated you to join The Stability Network? What do you hope to get from it?

I was already a role model on the InsideOut LeaderBoard, who introduced me to The Stability Network. Both organisations resonate perfectly with my mission by highlighting people from our workplaces who are open about their experience of mental ill-health, aiming to celebrate each leader who has decided to be open, inspire others, and thus play their part in ending the stigma and helping others speak out and seek help.

Are there resources (books, videos, websites) that helped and/or inspired you that you would recommend to others?

People have inspired me, rather than books, videos or websites. Mental health is a human and very personal condition, so I have looked to inspiring speakers for my energy and guidance.

Is there anything else you want to say or share?

Snowballs gather pace rolling downhill. The more we talk openly about mental health in the workplace, the more of a snowball effect we have, and will eventually make talking about mental health as normal as talking about a broken leg when we hobble into the office after a skiing accident.

It’s an airline concept, but you need to put your own mask on before you help others. Self-care is essential even if you are caring for someone else.

And finally, don’t forget your toothbrush. The organisation Unmind uses the toothbrush concept to remind us to take time out each day to work on mental wellbeing and look after ourselves, the same way we take the time to brush your teeth each morning and night – let’s remember that!

Let’s encourage everyone to smash the unnecessary stigma around the subject – we all have mental health so let’s talk about it!