James Glass graduated from the Royal Vet College in London in 1992 and, with his wife Debbie, spent almost 20 years building and running a small animal practice on the edge of the Lake District. In 2018, on the verge of suicide, he was diagnosed with severe depressive disorder and was off work for nine months. He stepped down from clinical work in 2019 and is currently completing an MSc in the psychology and neuroscience of mental health. He wants to encourage colleagues not to suffer in silence if they are struggling with mental health issues as it’s an illness that can affect anyone.
Not at home, not in work. Two years on, as I ran past the spot for the first time, the memory flooded back. “This seems like a good place to die”. The opening apology, the details of the conversation, all sorted in my head. The 999 call-handler certainly didn’t deserve what was coming. And I was clear that it would all be over before anyone arrived.
I had reached 50 without any problems. Easy-going, sociable and used to taking long working hours in my stride, I was always optimistic and never had any issues. I enjoyed my work and had a great bunch of staff and lovely clients. Then a member of staff left, work was very busy, and I was working much more than I should have done. I started to notice poor sleep and the days getting harder. When a close friend, who I had supported through their own mental illness, took his life I felt trapped by grief and I struggled to move on.
I knew I wasn’t well, but my professional pride stopped me asking for help. Husband, father, church member, business owner, employer, trusted vet, how could I possibly let anyone know how dark the cave I had come to inhabit? I lost interest in life and everything became dull and pointless. There seemed no way forward and I was desperate for an escape. I started planning my suicide. Looking back, I realise you don’t come to a point where you think suicide is a good idea, you simply reach a place where you can no longer face how you are living.
A fortunate conversation with my GP (who was also a client) opened the flood gates. He, along with an amazing mental health nurse at Vetlife’s Vet Health Support, quickly realised things were serious and GP care was replaced with daily supervision and support from the local NHS psychiatric service. It would be another four months before my family felt safe to leave me on my own.
Two years on, while I remain on anti-depressants and contend with some poor sleep and occasional dark weeks, things are very different. Running, which I started at the suggestion of one of the psychiatric team, has become an important strategy. The very overweight, utterly unfit bloke is somewhat slimmer and, on long trails in the beautiful Lake District, ran over
1000 miles last year. I have now left veterinary practice and see my future direction in mental health support for others. Life is absolutely worth living again and, while I might not have chosen this pathway, it’s a privilege to use my experience to help others. People need to know that, even with a serious mental illness, there is hope and there is recovery.