Depression nearly took Kevin Werner’s life when he was a preteen.
Werner remembers being depressed and anxious even at age five or six, he told an online audience during this year’s virtual Advancing Women in Agriculture conference.
He’d feel down, like he didn’t belong or shouldn’t be part of this world despite his tight-knit family, Werner said. He hid his feelings as best he could, sometimes sneaking off to cry.
At age 12 or 13, depression and anxiety were affecting young Werner’s schooling. He had a short attention span. Learning was hard.
One hot summer night, overwhelmed by internal pain, Werner took his .22 rifle and snuck down the hall of the old farmhouse to the bathroom. He sat on the edge of the tub and put the gun barrel in his mouth.
He began a mental tug of war, Werner said. Part of him was convinced that he’d do it, that then his pain would be over and his family wouldn’t have to worry about him. Part of him wondered what his family and friends would think. Would they blame each other?
This internal struggle went on for an hour. Finally, exhausted, he got up and returned to bed.
“I did not say a word to my parents,” Werner said.
Werner was finally diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety in his early 30s. He didn’t tell anyone.
He’d begun a career, first with FCC, then with TD Bank — Werner would go on to be vice-president of commercial and agriculture banking. His doctor called him a bit of a workaholic, even an adrenaline junkie. He used this to hide his mental illness.
“I felt really quite embarrassed,” Werner said. “I felt weak. I felt like I wasn’t a normal human being.”
He began the trial-and-error cycle of finding a medication to stabilize his illness. The medication would work for a while but then wear off.
While working in a senior role for TD in Red Deer, the medication began to wear off and Werner began to spiral into a very dark place. Werner admitted himself to a hospital where he’d remain for a month.
It was there that Werner decided to tell his boss what was going on.
“I don’t want to be wondered about,” Werner told his audience. He felt embarrassed, but his boss was “so very supportive” and told him to take all the time he needed to get back on his feet.
“It was like a huge weight off my shoulders,” Werner said.
When he returned to work, he also told his staff. They were surprised but also supportive.
This disclosure led TD to invite Werner to join a national subcommittee on disabilities. He was asked because of his lived experience with mental illness, and mental health became a key focus of the committee.
“We wanted to get (mental illness) out of the closet,” Werner said. They wanted people to be able to talk about their experiences.
Werner has written and continues to speak about his life with mental illness. Retired now, he still lives with depression and anxiety which he manages with medication.
He told his audience he hopes his own experience will help people recognize the signs of mental illness in themselves and in loved ones and will help them talk about it. Talking helps unload the burden, he said.
Talking to family about your mental illness is important, he said. If you’re able to tell your employer, that’s also a good step as it allows them to understand and accommodate you better.
If you are experiencing depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, are concerned about a family member or need someone to talk to, the Manitoba Farm, Rural and Northern Support Services line offers free, confidential counselling at 1-866-367-3276.