Transcriber: Menah Usman Reviewer: Tanya Cushman
I had a secret.
Not a fun secret with an expiry date
like waiting till week 12 of pregnancy to show exciting news
or planning a surprise party for a loved one.
My secret was painful and shameful.
It made me feel below par.
Less of a human being.
A prisoner in my own home.
A waste of a life.
My secret was so heavy that it broke me.
It took from me my job, my friends, a tooth.
And it took me from me.
My secret was that I had depression.
Depression is a cruel and debilitating illness.
It affects every single aspect of my life.
The negative thoughts are deafening.
I feel weak, ashamed and alone;
unworthy, hopeless and helpless.
I develop anxieties on top of my anxieties -
leaving the house, answering the telephone,
opening the post, driving my car,
travelling by train, noise, people.
My family were and still are brilliant.
But it's almost as if their brilliant shines too brightly,
that I put them on a pedestal
and depression convinced me that I just don't match up,
that I'm a burden to them,
that I'm dimming their light,
that in simply existing,
I am slowly but surely ruining their lives.
Talking about depression isn't new for me.
I do it every single day as part of my job
but from behind a laptop.
So standing here today in front of all of you
and saying the words aloud,
I feel vulnerable, naked.
My instincts are screaming at me to run and hide,
but there's nowhere to hide.
And to make matters worse,
experience tells me
that you probably like me less now than you did two minutes ago,
that you might feel a little bit ashamed for me,
struggle to maintain eye contact.
You might think that I'm lying, maybe attention seeking,
perhaps that I'm to blame.
The problem with keeping depression a secret
is that it only serves to exacerbate the illness.
Keeping depression a secret gives it every ounce of your power.
There is a well-known quote by Mark Twain,
"Anger is an acid,
which does more harm to the vessel in which it is stored
than to anything on which it is poured."
And neuroscience tells us that keeping a secret
is just as detrimental to us as that anger.
It affects our mental and physial health.
In fact, the very act of thinking about a deeply held secret
changes our physiology.
We experience a surge in cortisol levels,
which have been linked to a weakened immune system,
increased blood pressure,
memory loss, more aches and pains.
Every time that I look in the mirror,
I can see how my secret affected me physically.
The Grand Canyon on my forehead:
a frown line that wasn't there before,
a frown line, which is literally the worry etched on my face.
In 2009, I discovered the magical world of Twitter -
some of you may be familiar with that today -
a place where people were openly talking about my secret
for all the world to see -
publicly, openly and with clarity.
I was so confused.
I'd been so desperate to guard my secret.
I'd lied to people,
hidden from the world,
convinced they'd all be better off without me.
It was astonishing to me
that there were people who were so unashamed
of the very thing that I'd been so ashamed of.
But it was powerful too.
It was the moment in time that I gave up giving up.
I was reading my story in their words.
I wasn't the only one who had depression.
They did too.
I wasn't the only one
who was struggling to eat, struggling to sleep,
struggling to interact with people,
struggling to function.
They were too.
Those are the people who saved me.
The people who saved me from myself were people I'd never met before,
people who gave me a window into the outside world,
people I could reach from my bed,
people who said "me too" as I shared my experiences of depression with them,
people who gave me hope.
And as the hope inside me began to grow,
I realized something.
People, including me,
seemed quite comfortable talking about their experiences of depression online.
Research by King's College London
shows that personal contact with people with mental health problems
is the most effective way to reduce discrimination and prejudice.
It's a vicious circle.
The more that we try to conceal the illness,
the more we feel the need to,
the more ashamed we feel.
It's clear that there's a need for digestible information
and an opportunity there to harness peer support,
not just for those with depression
but for their loved ones too.
I'd gained so much from those conversations on Twitter,
and I wanted to somehow be a conversation starter for others
who were where I had been.
And so the idea for Blurt was born.
Blurt exists to make a difference to anyone affected by depression.
We start conversations, and we connect people.
Think of us as the knowing nod.
You've all seen it.
A slight bob of the head accompanied by a wry smile,
a gesture that says so much.
It says, "I'm here for you. I'm listening. I understand."
We strongly believe that mental health is just as important as physical health;
the stigma takes lives.
All of the work that we do is underpinned by those statements.
During Depression Awareness Week, in April of this year,
we ran a campaign.
It was the first campaign we ever did.
The idea behind it was to start conversations
and to give people the chance
to share the realities of living with depression,
the impact it's had on their lives
and to challenge the stigma.
The campaign was called "What you don't see."
We'd had a good start.
On the Monday morning,
we were already featured on Huffington Post UK's front page,
and we'd emailed thousands of our supporters,
but we were still really, really worried about how the campaign would be received,
whether it was perhaps a step too far
to ask people to boldly talk about depression online.
But we needn't have worried.
By Monday afternoon, the hashtag #WhatYouDontSee
had been trending for four hours on Twitter.
At one point, it was the fourth most talked about topic in the UK.
And then we broke our Twitter
as we tried so desperately to reply to every single tweet,
not wanting any of those brave people
to go unheard.
Tuesday was a quieter day.
But Monday had exceeded all of our expectations,
so we didn't really mind.
We thought maybe we'd peaked early,
and that was okay.
And then boom, Wednesday.
Buzzfeed wrote an article about our campaign.
It then trended on Buzzfeed's website
and was read by over three-quarter of a million people.
We then broke our Twitter four more times
as we so desperately tried to deal with the increased use of our hashtag.
Thursday was another really big, big day.
Our campaign was picked up by Metro, GQ magazine,
Stylist, Twitter's Moments,
rugby legend Jonny Wilkinson,
author Marian Keyes,
and then we reached the dizzying heights of Hollywood
as Prison Break star Wentworth Milller
talked about our campaign on his Facebook page.
Thankfully, Friday was a much quieter day.
We were exausted and emotional.
It had been an exciting week,
but we'd been replying to so many brave tweets
that it had taken a lot from us too.
Our hashtag was and still is going.
I checked just now before I came on, and it's still being used today.
It has been used over a 100,000 times
on Facebook alone.
What was so amazing about the campaign wasn't the campaign itself.
It was the people.
People who were able to share their story.
It made for an incredible week,
a week I'll never forget.
And in case you're ever in any doubt,
your words, they do have meaning.
You can make a difference.
Depression convinced me that I would never amount to anything,
that I was a waste of a life.
It almost took my life in 2005 and 2007.
Because of those people
who were able to share their experience of depression,
I was able to slowly rebuild me.
Those same people were a catalyst to a chain of events
which see me standing here today.
You see, there was power in their pain,
not the hurt and devastation.
The power was that they were able to use their hindsight
and allow me to use it as my foresight.
I was able to learn from their experiences,
and in turn, others have been able to learn from mine too.
A Mexican wave of truth, courage and kindness.
Search out those people who share your secrets.
Allow them to tell your story in their words
as one day you may do for others too.
And please know this:
even when you feel empty, as though you are nothing,
you're not nothing.
Your light shines so brightly,
and even if you can't see it, we can.