Laurence Catlow explores what to do if you're hit with a bad bout of depression

The start of my depression

It was a still, soft October morning. I was feeding my pheasants and enjoying every minute of it, because there were lots of birds on show and already they looked more or less ready for sport. There was still over a fortnight to go before the first shoot.

Slowly I walked from ride to ride. There were pheasants on all of them, the trees were glowing yellow and gold, robins were singing their sad autumn song and, whenever the gentle breeze roused itself for a minute or two, it brought the soft thud of crab apples and acorns on to the fallen leaves.

It was lovely and peaceful and, in my contentment, my thoughts turned by way of contrast — partly prompted by a conversation with the Editor — to a time in my life when feeding pheasants on a still, soft October morning more often than not found me in tears.

I couldn’t understand why I had released birds when the thought of shooting them brought only pain. Because I knew that if I did force myself to go shooting, my experience of a High Park day would be an agonising mockery of what a High Park day used to be.

For three years my guns and fishing rods went virtually untouched, though the sight of my cabinet and rod cases frequently produced a yearning that they would once again play a central part in a rich and happy life.

I think I knew that, if I was ever to recover from the crippling depression that had so unexpectedly overwhelmed me, fishing and shooting would somehow be at the heart of the healing process. And so indeed it proved.

Shooter with gun

Catlow had a real fear that his certificate might be revoked

Depression is a terrible affliction

The stricken shooter, moreover, is faced with a particular problem and fear. The problem is what to do with his guns. The fear is that his condition might lead to a permanent disqualification from the sport.

I knew that fear. In my case it proved groundless. Here, briefly, is how I dealt with my depression and was helped to address both the problem and the fear and how, when I came to renew my certificate, the authorities responded.

I never tried to conceal my depression. As soon as I realised what was wrong with me I sought help and treatment. I was very lucky in that my GP specialised in mental health and provided exemplary support. He knew that I was a shooter and asked me whether I felt happy with my guns in the house. He never pressed me to surrender them.

Encouraged by friends, I decided to give him the keys to my cabinet, which he said he would return as soon as I asked him to. He also said that he was under no obligation to inform the police of my condition but would do so if he deemed it necessary, which he thought very unlikely. He told me that I would get better in time.

why we shoot

Good help

I was very lucky indeed in my GP. I was fortunate in the help of family and friends. Whether or not the medication prescribed for me was equally helpful is less certain.

Nobody seems to know how effective antidepressants really are. My guess is that they helped me to a limited extent, but one thing is beyond doubt (and I hope this doesn’t sound flippant) — I timed my illness perfectly, because depression first took hold shortly after my certificate had been renewed. I struggled with the illness for almost three years before the light began slowly to find its way back into my life.

There were setbacks but progress was steady. I started fishing and found that it mattered again. Autumn arrived and the old Webley came out of the cabinet and went shooting with me. I was often nervous at the start of a day but gradually my confidence grew. I began to relax and find something like the old pleasure and fulfilment in a day’s shooting.

Fishing helped me to start feeling happy again in my own company, while shooting helped me begin to feel at ease among others, especially friends. Both sports helped to restore that vital contact with nature that nourishes the spirit of all true fishing and shooting men.

Fisherman

Fishing is a good way to rediscover joy and contentment in your own company

Real joy

Another year passed, in which I fished and shot with real joy. I felt normal again, except perhaps for a slight hangover from my depression which made blank days and days of poor shooting much more demoralising than in earlier years.

Anyway, when the time came to renew my certificate, I could claim without falsehood that I was no longer ill. I asked my doctor what I should say about my illness on the application form and he told me to be honest, to admit to a period of deep depression but also to make clear what was perfectly true: that I had now recovered.

He said that he would support my application, adding that my mental health would be likely to suffer if I were denied an activity that was an important part of my life.

When the licensing officer made contact with me, he said that I had done exactly the right thing in admitting my problems. He added that concealment was what he found most disturbing.

In due course my new certificate arrived. I breathed an almighty sigh of relief and immediately felt even more impatient for the beginning of the upcoming pheasant season.

You may be wondering if my experience was typical or whether I was just lucky. I cannot provide a conclusive answer to this question. I know of one other shooter who renewed his certificate while still struggling with illness and on antidepressants. I know that, like me, he received his doctor’s support and suspect that this is the crucial factor.

Be honest

There are several conclusions to be drawn from the brief history of my struggle with depression. The first is that if you are currently a victim of the same condition there is good reason to hope that, given time, help and treatment, you will be able to return to your sport.

But it is very important not to hide your illness or the fact that you own guns. Go to your doctor, talk things through, make every effort to behave responsibly and, above all, be open and honest with your licensing department when invited to apply for a new certificate. I hope you are treated with the same sympathy and understanding that were shown to me.

I hope you get better quickly and are soon back in the field, finding in your shooting all the old delights and fulfilments which meant so much in earlier times.

You may find, like me, that your joy in sport is even greater than before. This will be acutely felt because you have won back something very precious that you feared might have been lost forever.