After years of hiding his pain and depression, Henry found himself at breaking point. But the connection and trust with a special therapist, and his own passion for music, opened him up to the possibility of a brighter future
When I was 18, I was diagnosed with depression. It was 2010, and I had just finished high school. But instead of celebrating with my friends, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in London. The truth is that it was a relief. For so many years, I’d covered up my depression and, to some extent, hidden it pretty well from even myself.
I never told anyone about the pain I was in, the self-harming, or that I almost took my own life when I was 16. It probably seems strange that I was unaware I needed help. But mental health was just never a conversation at home or at school. And so when the truth finally came out, I hoped that life would get a little better.
But after three years of therapy, and a few stints in psychiatric hospitals, my condition had only worsened. I’d been diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses, and was put on a cocktail of drugs that left me comatose half of the time. I felt completely hopeless and often contemplated suicide. The few things that brought me any real happiness during this time were my family, friends, and writing music. I count myself incredibly lucky to have not only lived a life surrounded by wonderful people, but also to have found a passion so early on that has always found a way of guiding me. Music has helped shape me as a person and, in many ways, defined my life so far.
But by the time I turned 21, life had pretty much unravelled. I could no longer maintain relationships, couldn’t get a job, or even get through the day without having a panic attack. I had overdosed twice, dropped out of university, and stopped writing music. With nowhere else to go, I moved back home to my parents’ farm in rural Oxfordshire and, after only a week or two, found myself contemplating suicide again.
Suicide is a really complex topic. It totally devastates everything it touches but, for so many who feel like they can no longer cope, it often seems like the only way out. For me, life had become unbearable. I had, quite literally, lost the will to live and so, one summer evening, I walked out the door of our farm and tried to end my life.
A few days later, I woke up to find myself in a hospital hooked up to multiple machines. I can remember closing my eyes tightly and feeling devastated that I had survived. When doctors told me that there were no available beds in any of the NHS psychiatric hospitals across the UK, my family organised for me to go to a rehab in Arizona. Two days later, I found myself boarding a plane to America.
I arrived in Arizona a completely broken man. But it didn’t take long for me to find my feet.
On my second day, I met my therapist. He told me his life story – how he’d lived through gang warfare, abuse, addiction and depression, and how he’d transformed his life to eventually become the man sitting across from me. It blew me away. No therapist had ever told me anything personal before. But before I even had a chance to catch my breath, he was asking to hear my story.
I became so inspired by those who shared their stories, and by the countless people who devote their lives to helping others, that it only seemed right to share mine
And so I spilled my whole life out before him. He listened and somehow made me feel completely comfortable. It was as if, for the very first time, I was telling my story to someone who actually understood. When I finished, there was a brief silence between us as I watched the wheels in his mind turn, before he asked plainly: “What would your life look like, if it wasn’t like this?” I told him I had no idea. He nodded in agreement, looked me dead in the eye, and asked: “Do you want to change?”
The question took me by surprise. Not because it was so direct, but because no one had ever asked it before. Usually therapists took these moments to just tell me what they thought was wrong with me, and that I needed to do this or that to cope. But here was a man simply asking me if I wanted to change, and asking in such a way that made change almost seem possible. Hope started to swell inside me, and suddenly, with more honesty and integrity than I had ever had before, simply said “Yes.”
At that moment I realised that I had the power to build the life of my dreams.
And so I admitted to myself that, through no fault of my own, I had gotten myself into this mess. Events had happened in my life that I’d had no control over, and no idea how to deal with. I’d become accustomed to being my own worst enemy, and had grown to see the world not for what it was, but for what I perceived it to be.
By taking ownership of my depression, I suddenly had power over it. With every day that passed, I worked on changing my way of life, my beliefs, my actions, my views – both of the world and of myself. I was reclaiming my existence, and it was the most incredible feeling.
To achieve something you want in life, I think you require three things. You have to believe in yourself, you have to work hard, and you need a bit of luck. I was lucky to go to Arizona, I was lucky to meet the right people at the right time, and I worked harder than I ever thought possible, but, more than anything, I believed in myself. And that’s what it took for me to beat nearly a decade of living with depression.
I don’t have all the answers, and life still grinds me down at times, but I really wouldn’t change a thing, because my past, however hard it was at times, has made me who I am today. I truly believe that hope is everything, so I never let go of it.
Instead of returning home to England from Arizona, I moved to Los Angeles, acquired a visa, enrolled myself in a small college, and started a music career. I met people who helped me in more ways than I can ever possibly explain. But what I am most grateful for, above all else, is that they encouraged me to start taking my music seriously. During my five years in California, I released two EPs, had my music played on the radio, picked up endorsements, and, in 2016, moved to San Francisco after being accepted to study at the University of California, Berkeley.
I graduated last year with a degree in English Literature, and moved back home to England, where I now work as a musician and a mental health advocate for young people. I have toured the country, gone on air with the BBC to talk about mental health, and curated shows that raise awareness and money for mental health charities.
Advocating for mental health was never an intention of mine at the beginning, and I certainly never imagined that I would now be trying to help people on a daily basis. But, in the end, I became so inspired by those who shared their stories, and by the countless people who devote their lives to helping others, that it only seemed right to share mine in the hope it can help someone, somewhere, believe in themselves again.
Rav Sekhon | BA MA MBACP (Accred), says:
Henry’s experience is truly inspirational, having overcome such adversity, to now being in a position where he is helping others and shining the light for positive change. His journey did not come without it’s struggles. After multiple attempts to end his life, Henry found invaluable support from his therapist that changed his life forever. The role that music has played is also key for Henry. Connecting with an activity we enjoy is vital to maintaining our wellbeing, and provided Henry with a flourishing self-belief.