“Sometimes it’s not okay to say you’re okay”

Our valued supporter, Darren Drudge, works as Customer Services Assistant for our partner Lloyds Banking Group. Sophia from our Communications team spoke to him about his experiences of the pandemic and how his dad’s mental illness affected his own mental health and led him to feel alone. His recent participation in March Around The World, a work fundraising event, enabled him to expand his network locally and get things back on track.

Trigger warning: This article mentions suicidal thoughts

To start off, could you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name’s Darren and I work at a local bank branch on the Isle of Wight. I’ve been working for the business for 28 years unbelievably(!) so I’ve seen a lot of changes in my time – it’s been great to be a part of that.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme is loneliness. I wondered what has impacted your mental health over the past two years?

Covid hit in March 2020 and it has had a massive impact on my mental health. I began working from home that September and really struggled with not having colleagues around me, and having to deal with everything being online.

Separating my work life from my home life also became difficult. So I decided to go out for a 10-minute walk in the morning, which would replace my usual walk to work, and I did the same at lunchtime and after work too. I reached out to a couple of colleagues that were also finding things challenging and I encouraged them to do the same.

In March 2021, my dad, who lived with OCD became very mentally unwell. This had a knock-on effect on my own wellbeing and I had to take five months off work due to chronic stress and physical health problems. At the same time, my dad’s mental health continued to deteriorate to the point that unfortunately he tried to take his own life a few times.

He had a stay at a good mental health hospital on the island, and was able to come back home in September 2021 with the support of medication to help his condition. However, after five weeks at home, his physical health started letting him down. Unfortunately, he passed away ten days later.

I became quite lonely again at work because I didn’t have a lot of people that I could talk to. I had a group of friends outside of work who I reached out to on social. It was great that I could be open about how I was struggling. They became an immense support for me during that period of loneliness.

Not long after my dad died, I returned to work because I needed to get back to that environment and build face-to face connections, for my own wellbeing. Being able to get my story out and talk to people that I know has helped me hugely throughout these two years. Historically, I was the person that didn’t share my stories with anybody, I’d just bottle things up. But I see now how important it is to talk.

Another thing that has really helped is having Mental Health UK as our charity partner. People are so much more aware about mental health thanks to the partnership, and there’s a much more open culture. The charity has been so special to my family, to the point that at my dad’s funeral, we collected £200 worth of donations to go towards the valuable work you do.

Tell us a bit about the fundraising event, March Around the World that you took part in through work. What made you sign up to that?

March Around the World in March 2022 was a virtual walking challenge and fundraiser for Mental Health UK. The idea was for colleagues from across the organisation to reach 10,000 steps a day and collectively walk the breadth of the world – the equivalent to 53 million steps!

I thought taking part would be a very good way for me to get myself back out walking in the community, for my own physical fitness and also to get my mental health back on track.

We have some beautiful scenery on the Isle of Wight and we’re always near a coast. Seeing the sea just helps clear our minds. I managed to achieve 10,000 steps every single day for most of March, which has helped me feel grounded.

It’s also helped me to connect with a couple of friends and work colleagues who live locally. We would go on walks together to rack up the steps. And we enjoyed it so much we’ve since agreed to regularly go out for a walk together just so that we can meet up, have a chat and just get out of our own heads for a bit. Enjoy a sense of freedom!

My final question is, if you could say one thing to people who are struggling with their mental health, what would it be?

I think the best thing I can say, especially to the men out there who may find it hard to open up, is: it’s so important to talk to people and make your feelings known. No-one can help you or support you if they don’t know what’s going on.

Sometimes it’s not okay to say you’re okay when you’re not. In the bad times, it’s vital to be able to say “no I’m not okay”, whether that’s to an independent person, or your closest friends or family. It can make the world of difference to your mental wellbeing.


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