Posted on November 1, 2017 by staff

Life with mental illness: Dr Sue Black OBE


Today we put mental health under the spotlight with a series of interviews with tech entrepreneurs as they open up about their experiences.

The second entrepreneur that we interviewed is Dr Sue Black OBE.

With her flame-red hair and big grin, tech powerhouse Black seems the vision of energy and happiness.

Professionally she also seems unstoppable, having saved WWII codebreaking base Bletchley Park, founded BCSWomen, the UK’s first online network for women in tech, and started social enterprise #techmums.

She has also had to battle issues along the way.

“After my mother died when I was 12 and my dad remarried I used to get depressed,” she says.

“When my brother committed suicide a few years ago I slipped into a horrible depression.

“I managed to cope just after his death even though it was a horrifically awful thing to have to come to terms with.

“But then just as everything started getting back to normal I felt as if I was falling into a dark bottomless pit from which I would never escape.

“I told work that I wasn’t coping and was given time off to sort myself out. I started CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) counselling which was really wonderful.

“From the first session I was helped to work out why I felt out of control, with my brain spinning round and round in neverending circles of unhappy thought.

“It felt like the counselling gradually helped me put together the rope ladder which helped me to clamber out of the dark tunnel and into the sunshine. It was incredible.

“Then my best friend Hazel was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. I only just managed to get through it without falling apart.

“I performed poorly on some work-related tasks and felt completely emotionally drained all of the time. If it hadn’t been for my family again, Hazel’s friends Angie and Ryoko and my friend Alison, I don’t know how I would have got through it.

“Something I didn’t expect was that some weeks after Hazel had died, I suddenly felt unable to get out of bed in the morning. I just wanted to cry. What was going on?

“It took me a couple of days to work out that it was a reaction to Hazel’s death and that I was slipping back down.

“I went back to therapy and, as before, from the end of the first session I felt like I had a way to get myself out of the state that I was in. A chink of light, a glimmer of hope. After several sessions I was back on top.

“So, I get depression. I’ve described something of the two worst bouts of depression from the last few years, there have been other times when it has happened, and usually after the death of a friend or relative. At my age now, that unfortunately seems to be happening more and more often.

“But then that makes me think, well maybe depression is normal. The psychologist my workplace sent me to after the death of my brother said that my reaction was completely normal. Maybe it’s abnormal to not feel depressed in such a situation.

“I’m getting to know the signs and triggers. When I feel it coming on now I stop putting pressure on myself and start thinking about things that I would really love to do like going on holiday or seeing my kids.

“I’ll probably get depression sporadically for the rest of my life, but that’s fine. I have a tendency to overwork myself so it’s just one of the ways I send myself a message to slow down.”