On Thursday 14th September, I spoke at the IOSH National Safety and Health Conference in Nottingham. The title of the presentation was: Fast Train Approaching…! A personal story of breakdown and recovery

Delighted to be in DH Lawrence country, I think I met the brief. The audience were decidedly quiet during the talk, but I was glad that four people came up to me afterwards to thank me, personally. Here are some excerpts from the presentation…

It was 20 years ago that I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder, something which is almost trendy these days. So, I have a label. But I’d like to think of myself not as ‘bipolar’ but someone with experience of bipolar disorder. Some estimate that around 4 million people in the UK live with bipolar, but it’s generally accepted to be around 1 in a 100.

 What do you first think of, when you think of mental health?

 So, what happened? Take yourselves back to 1997. Remember some of the events of that year: threats to major rail stations from the IRA; Tony Blair, ‘Things Can Only Get Better’; Princess Diana’s death. Well there was also an apparently insignificant event for me…

On the evening of, 14th January 1997 I was in Garrick Street in London’s West End with a friend of mine who was also an Environmental Health Officer… (cockroach story)


Breakdown. Nervous breakdown. Fragments. And in those fragments, something of the truth. I didn’t see it coming until the third time around, bearing down on me. I’m more aware now. I watch for tell-tale signs, try to feel the ground ahead of me to predict and prevent that first slip into madness. As if it could happen at any moment.

And I talked about the brain, and numbers, and neutrinos, and asked what have I done to change, and what haven’t I changed? I quoted from the email for sharing my story at work.

 On Friday, 12th May, for Mental Health Awareness Week, Steve Walter will be sharing his personal experience of breakdown and recovery as a basis for discussion.   We are pleased to be able to offer an opportunity for people to freely discuss mental health issues in the workplace.

 If you would like to attend this half hour informal session, please feel free to come along to meeting room 1 on Friday at 10.30.”

And, mistakenly, I thought it was for other people’s benefit, when in fact it was for me.

I have one regret from the talk, I’d thought I was short of time (I think I was) and I didn’t mention suicide…a whole other area….

In 2016/17 in the UK – 137 people died at work (plus 92 members of the public), while 6,188 people took their own lives (in 2015), and globally it’s as many as one million!

The WHO estimate one death every 40 seconds and it is predicted that by 2020 the rate of death will increase to one every 20 seconds. It is mainly young men because, it has been said, they are more efficient than women at killing themselves! There are estimated to be 10-20 million non-fatal attempted suicides each year, or one person in fifteen making a suicide attempt at some point in their life.

 Tips on First Aid for Depression ‘ALGEE’
(with acknowledgment to Mental Health First Aid)

Assess risk of suicide or self-harm
Listen non-judgmentally
Give reassurance and information
Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help
Encourage self-help strategies

Or consider CPR

Current plan: are they thinking about suicide, have they made preparations to do so, including the means, have they made arrangements for after their death?

Prior behaviour: have they attempted suicide before, self-harmed or engaged in risk taking behaviour? Note: prior behaviour alone is not a sign of current risk.

Resources: do they have personal supports (such as friends, family, hobbies, work) as well as the means to complete suicide


With thoughts and prayers for those on the edge…



Speaking Out on Mental Health – 14th September, Nottingham