Finding his voice
Doug Leddin knows what it means to be seriously depressed and even suicidal. He tells Joy Orpen being able to open up about the problems he faces has changed his life completely, and definitely for the better
Not so long ago, Doug Leddin (29) asked his unsuspecting friend to help him to make a short video of a message he wanted to post on the internet. Doug stood in front of the camera and, for the first time in his life, admitted publicly that not only does he suffer from deep depression, but also that he has seriously considered ending his own life. When this sensitive, beautifully filmed video went online, it was watched by hundreds of thousands of people. No one was more surprised than Doug.
This epic personal journey began when he was just 14 years old and growing up with his sister in Rathfarnham, Dublin. "It started with body dysmorphia," explains Doug. "I was a bit overweight and disliked aspects of my body. Then I became bulimic. When I went to a restaurant, I'd be checking where the bathroom was and worrying in case anyone would hear me throwing up."
Eventually, his parents realised what was going on and questioned him. "That opened up a can of worms," he says. "I admitted I was angry, depressed and suicidal, and that I was in a dark place I couldn't seem to get out of. I wasn't an easy teenager. I felt guilty about the depression because I came from such a warm, loving family; we were comfortable, and I went to a good school."
His concerned parents arranged for him to see a therapist at St John of God Hospital. "Apart from the torture of talking about my pain, I was scared I'd be seen going there," Doug remembers. "I thought there would be huge shame if people knew I had depression."
The upside was learning skills for coping with his fluctuating moods and being prescribed antidepressants, which brought "some consistency" to his thoughts. That, combined with running and going to the gym, allowed Doug to continue progressing through school.
Oddly enough, he had a great social life. "I wanted to be the life and soul of the party so I'd forget about my own unhappiness," he says. "When you're alone, dark thoughts can overwhelm you. People with depression are great actors; they're so determined not to be found out."
By the time Doug got to sixth year, he was struggling with mounting academic pressures, the recession decimating Ireland, and his own deeply troubling issues. "No one was going out, so that winter was long and dark," he remembers. "I found it difficult to cope. But I passed the Leaving Cert anyway." Doug then enrolled for a degree in marketing, but found the pressure too overwhelming.
"I thought, 'Why am I doing this - for the sake of a bit of paper?'" Doug says. "So I started running nightclub events around the country. That went really well, and I made life-long friends during those four years."
When he was 21, Doug weaned himself off his medication, under his doctor's supervision. A year or so later, he began working for a marketing company promoting major brands, and enjoyed that. "I began to see the really cool side of Dublin life," he remembers. In June 2012, he was admitted to St Vincent's University Hospital with severe stomach cramps. Eventually, he was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, which causes the bowel to become chronically inflamed.
At the time, his parents were on holiday. "I was 23 and alone, lying in a hospital bed, when the doctor tells me I have this difficult condition and that it won't go away," he recalls. "All my dark feelings started rushing back."
Later that year, things got even worse for Doug when a 20-ton truck coming off the M50 ploughed into his car at a roundabout. "I was rushed to hospital and was in such a state of shock I can't remember much," he admits. He had serious hip injuries, which required surgery and nine months of physiotherapy. He still suffers the painful consequences of that awful accident.
What really galls him though, is the fact that the investigations by the insurance companies dragged on for five years. "That whole episode brought on the worst time in my life," he says. "I thought, 'I'll kill myself and all this will be over'." Thankfully, he soldiered on.
In August 2014, the actor Robin Williams took his own life. Doug happened to hear this terrible tragedy being discussed by medical practitioner and psychologist Dr Ian Gargan (Imagine Health and the Mater Private) on Marian Finucane's radio show. He was so impressed by the doctor's understanding of mental-health issues, he made an appointment to see him. "I've been going to him ever since," volunteers Doug. "He said he couldn't understand why I hadn't told my good friends that I was depressed and sometimes suicidal.
"He put me back on antidepressants, and coached me to open up to one person, then two people, and so on. After that, I contacted my good friend Ger Walsh, who is a videographer. He had no idea why I was calling over. We went out onto his balcony and I just started talking about my depression straight into the camera."
Doug did the video with tears in his eyes. "This was my one chance to tell the world how I was feeling after 12 or 13 years of hell," Doug says. "Initially, I was too scared to put it online; I didn't know how people would react. I picked holes in it. But finally, with the support of friends, it did get posted."
The reaction was just astounding. Everyone from The Huffington Post to The New York Times and the Rubber Bandits began sharing the immensely moving video. "In 24 hours, it got a million views," says Doug. "It was the best thing I ever did. The support I got has been incredible. I now know depression doesn't define who I am, and that I don't have to hide who I am. It's a massive relief. It has been life-changing."
As a consequence, Doug got involved in the Movember campaign, which encourages men to open up about the very specific physical challenges they face, such as prostate and testicular cancer. But it is also tackling mental-health issues, which manifests differently in men and women, resulting in eight out of every 10 suicides being male.
"Depression is well documented," says Doug. "But it's not discussed properly. Please speak up; talk to your friends or to your family. The first step in solving a problem is admitting there is one in the first place."
Next year, Doug will marry HR specialist Alison Brazil, who has been a great support to him since they met four years ago. He himself has just become a marketing manager for Marlin, a UK-based hotel and apartment group, which is opening a hotel on St Stephen's Green in 2019. So all is going really well for him.
He takes an antidepressant on a daily basis, and also sees Dr Gargan regularly.
"My biggest regret is not opening up sooner," says Doug. "It has really changed my life. I hope others can find the courage to open up about their own mental health, sooner rather than later. I have never been happier in my own skin."
For information on Movember's campaign to help men take action, see movember.ie Doug Leddin's video is available online
Sunday Indo Life Magazine