A leading county councillor has spoken out about his battle with depression in a bid to banish the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Cllr Paul Irwin gave a passionate speech about the importance of talking about mental health problems during a meeting of Bucks County Council (BCC) on Thursday (February 21).
The deputy cabinet member for transport said he hid his depression from his family and friends for years, often resorting to drinking when he was younger to help cope with his illness.
Now he is a champion for the Buckinghamshire Time to Change campaign – which aims to change people’s attitudes towards mental health as part of a national movement.
Cllr Irwin said: “Stigma around mental health has been a big rocker in my life and other people’s lives. I managed to hide my own mental health from my own friends and family for my entire life.
“As a sportsman, as a bloke that loves to go into a mosh pit at a punk concert, as a man that dresses up as an elf at Christmas, and as a politician – how can I have mental health issues? I’m the guy that fixes things, not the guy that needs to be fixed.”
He believes his depression started from a young age as he had dyslexia – leaving him feeling “stupid” compared to his classmates.
Meeting his wife, having children and becoming a councillor gave Cllr Irwin “a purpose in life” and now he is dedicating his time to helping others through his role as a Time to Change champion.
Time to Change is a national campaign that aims to end mental health discrimination by educating and encouraging people to talk about mental illness.
A local Time to Change initiative has been launched in Bucks – which recruits volunteer “champions” who are specially trained to talk to people who may be struggling and help change people’s attitudes towards mental health.
Cllr Irwin added: “Being a champion has been great to work with other people who suffer from the same thing.
“We don’t sit in a room and all cry and feel sorry for ourselves, we talk about it and try and do functions to raise awareness and get rid of the stigma, because there is a stigma, especially for a man, there is a massive stigma around mental health.
“I don’t like talking about this kind of thing, it is very difficult, but as someone who really believes in banishing the stigma I have to talk about this.”
For more information about Time to Change Buckinghamshire visit www.timetochangebucks.org