IT was the death of his life-long friend Darragh, who took his own life a little over a year ago, that convinced Peter O’Connell to speak openly about his own mental health.

His school friend seemed to have it made, with his own legal firm, family, and a wide circle of friends. But secretly he was struggling with depression and his business was in financial trouble.

Peter had been through is own mental health crisis about five years earlier. “If I had had the opportunity to explain to Darragh the kind of things I had been through maybe that would have helped him,” he says. “Maybe not”.

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He will never know, because while he could have spoken about his own health issues, he saw them as private. “I only told people who needed to know - a few friends, and some work colleagues.”

Now head of stations and infrastructure at Scotrail, Peter was working for FirstGroup at the time, but found himself increasingly overwhelmed by work and family life. “It had been a build up over a long period. I realised I wasn’t coping with issues that in retrospect were by no means insurmountable. Eventually I would be coming back after a holiday and absolutely dreading going back to the day to day.

“I was increasingly low in mood but also stressed and worked up. I couldn’t relate to people around me. But my wife was hugely supportive and persuaded me to speak to the GP about it.”

When he did so, the floodgates opened, he said. “I pretty much broke down and it became clear that I was depressed,” he recalls.

He got help – his GP suggested he go private, as he had a policy which covered a stay at the Priory, where he got help coping with his depression and learning cognitive behavioural techniques to manage his mood. Similar services could have been had on the NHS, but only with a wait of several months.

The situation in terms of access to NHS support may have improved since then, he says. He is still on medication, and he knows he can call on additional NHS help if he needs to, although he hasn’t had to do so – despite ups and downs which mean some days are harder than others.

Unlike many of those surveyed by the Mental Health Foundation, his experience of telling his then employers was positive. Structures were put in place and colleagues were supportive.

“When you do talk about this, nine conversations out of ten will end up with the other person talking about their own experience of mental health problems, or those of a partner, relative or close friend,” he says.

He hasn’t had to test Scotrail’s policies, but believes his current employer’s practise is also good. On a professional level, he would feel better able to support a colleague because of his own experience, he says.

He agrees that mental health is still stigmatised, but believes that because it is taboo the situation is worse.

“I was self-stigmatising, to an extent. You feel you cant talk about this but that is a very positive step to make. Admitting you need help is the start of getting better.”