In early 2018 the friends and family of Conor Steel were left heartbroken when they learned the 24-year-old had taken his own life.
The Abertay University gaming student had been racked with severe depression for most of his adolescence and adult life.
But despite this it still came as a massive shock to those who knew him when he was found by a friend in his student accommodation in Dundee.
Now his mum, Frances Beck and university friends, are working hard in his name to ensure that no other young person feels so alone again that they feel there is no other way out.
In particular the city charity Feeling Strong, run exclusively by young people for young people is launching its Mind, Body and Goal campaign on January 2nd.
Although aimed at every young person it will be focusing particularly on boys and young men, because they are generally speaking less likely to be open about their mental health problems.
Stephanie Carney, a fourth year student at Abertay, and close friend of Conor is Feeling Strong’s campaign and lobbying lead.
The 23-year-old psychology and counselling student said: “Conor’s death was dreadful.
“It left us all heartbroken. It was at that time that his mum and I decided to do everything we could to provide support for other young people.
“We didn’t know how to go about it initially but in November last year Feeling Strong was developed, led by Brook Marshall.
“We have been involved with many young people ever since and although we couldn’t provide counselling we point people in the right direction.”
Stephanie added: “It’s a very sad fact that young men are much less likely than young women to speak about their mental health worries.
“Our latest campaign is aimed at getting the message across the boys that it is okay to ask for help.
“Conor had tried to ask for help. He did go to the doctor but he was just given medication.
“What he really needed was someone to listen to him.”
Conor’s mum, Frances, said that while she had been aware that her son had gone through many difficult times with depression while growing up she believed that when he came to Dundee to study gaming he had really turned a corner and was happy and felt at home in the city.
“His course was going well and he had made a lot of good, like-minded friends.
“He was the happiest I had ever seen him.”
Frances said that when Conor was at school he was an easy target for bullies with his gentle nature, red hair and glasses.
He struggled through his primary years and things became even worse when he went to secondary school in his hometown in Stewarton in Ayrshire.
While he was in Dundee Conor went to the doctor to talk about his worries.
She said: “He was given medication and when that didn’t work he was given more stronger medication and basically sent away and told to get on with it.
“I have no doubt Conor would have benefited from being educated about mental health and how to effectively cope with that stress.
“His story could have been so very different if he’d had that support at that key stage of his life.
“Had his mental health problems been prevented or had he been given targeted early intervention support, it’s highly unlikely that he would have taken his own life.”
She added: “It’s important for schools to involve children and young people in leading their peers in mental health programmes to encourage them to support each other and help break down the stigma surrounding mental health.
“Schools should also embed a system of regularly measuring the levels of wellbeing of the whole school community to identify problems at an early stage.
“Support should be provided by mental health support workers who work within each school community.
“Heartbreakingly, none of this will bring back my son, but it will go a long way in ensuring that the lives of other young people are not so tragically ended.”
A grassroots recovery movement and an online mental health group are set to join forces under a new banner to support locals “on a new level”.
Recovery Dundee and Let’s Talk Tayside will come together to form Let’s Talk Recovery, helping those in recovery from addiction with a friendly and supportive social network.
RD co-founder Sharon Brand, LTT founder Ashley Bonini and personal trainer Mikie McCash hope to give those in the throes of recovery newfound physical and mental wellbeing – and a new network of friends.
Sharon co-founded Recovery Dundee in 2016 to give those dealing with addiction a source of hope to combat the associated mental health issues and loneliness that it can bring.
She later brought Mikie on board to provide free fitness sessions for those in recovery.
Ashley, meanwhile, founded Let’s Talk Tayside as an online group in which people could talk about their mental health openly, drawing on her experience as a student mental health nurse.
Since October last year, LTT’s membership has grown to more than 3,700 members.
Sharon said: “For the last seven months Mikie and I have been in touch with Ashley – we know mental and emotional health are very important so it made sense to come together.”
Ashley added: “It’s the missing link – and together we can try to help as many people as we can.”
The merger of the groups comes after the Dundee Drugs Commission published its report into local services in August.
That report, the result of 18 months of evidence gathering, interviews and both public and private meetings, found there was “a lack of mental health support for those who experience problems with drugs”.
As part of its recommendations, the Commission called on health chiefs to merge drug and mental health treatment, essentially treating them as one issue.
Let’s Talk Recovery’s aims are similar but the group is fiercely proud of its independence rooted in the communities that Sharon, Mikie and Ashley have built up.
Much of what the groups do on a day-to-day basis will not change – the “recovery cafe” nights at Beans and Berries will continue, as will Ashley’s organised group walks.
Sharon added: “We’ve got three years of working in the community and our own personal experience of recovery, of physical health, everything – we all have experience in what we’re working with.
“Coming together means strength in numbers and we can reach more people, and be taken more seriously.
“A community from which people can hear how they got off drugs or improved their mental health, that’s what recovery is about – that lived experience.
“You can’t have that if you are stuck in the system – it’s about feeling you can tackle it yourself.”
Mikie said: “Bringing all three of us together is one massive driving force. We all know what to do – we just need people to let us get on with it.
“We’ve tried it, tested it – what I do, what Sharon does, what Ashley does – but this will be on a level not done before.
“If people feel good, they can keep themselves on the right track – and our job is done.”
A young mum struggling with crippling depression has launched a campaign to spread love and kindness throughout the city.
Sophie McCutcheon, 23, from Lochee, plans to leave dozens of inspirational notes.
She began her project, called Love from a Stranger, last week and she will continue to leave random notes around the city on a weekly basis.
Sophie said: “Love from a Stranger is a project that is close to my heart and hopefully I’ll find some of my own happiness and hope from it.
“Every week I’ll be leaving handwritten notes with inspirational and kind messages on them around Dundee for people who need them the most, in the hope that they realise that they are not alone and there is more to our lives than the darkness.”
She added: “I often wish people were kinder to those surrounding them, especially children, whether they know them or not. I wish people were more supportive of one another, then perhaps we would be kinder to ourselves in adulthood.”
Sophie said she knows a lot of other people also struggle with their mental health and they don’t always feel like anyone understands what they’re going through.
She said “It’s for that reason I decided to introduce Love from a Stranger – it’s amazing how just a little note of kind words and encouragement can make a huge difference to someone’s life.”
Sophie said that among her messages were “be kind to yourself, you deserve it” and “never give up on yourself”.
“It would be great to find out if the note made a difference to someone’s day, life or mindset, and whether they kept it or passed it on to someone else.”
Sophie’s project began as a result of her own 10-year battle with depression and anxiety.
She recently began her blog The Devious Mind which she hopes will be her own place of sanctuary that could help others.
Former political aide and author, Alastair Campbell recalls the conversation he had with former prime minister Tony Blair about his experiences of depression and why talking is important for social change.
Video transcript: Alastair Campbell talks about depression
It’s time to talk, it’s time to change.
My name’s Alastair Campbell. I had a breakdown in the mid 80s and as a result of that I realised that I get depression from time to time. What I would say is that in general and in theory I’m very very good at being open. In practice, at times, if I am feeling just a bit kind of down and fed up with life I’m probably not but I’m conscious of the need to be. And therefore sometimes that will trigger me at the right moment to hopefully say and do the right thing.
When Tony Blair asked me to work for him in 1994 just after John Smith died and he became the Leader of the Labour Party and he asked me to work for him. And I kind of knew he would but I wasn’t sure and one of the reasons I wasn’t sure was because I just thought “Well I’ve cracked up before. The pressure I’m going to come under is going to be way more intense than anything I’ve had before as a journalist so who knows?”
So I said I was going to take a month to think about it. It wasn’t the only reason I want to think about it, it was one of them. And he came out to France where we were on holiday to try and sort of talk me into it. And I was moving, I was definitely moving in that direction but I thought I kind of owed it to him to tell him what had happened in relation to my breakdown and what happened. So we were on a very, quite a long drive, we had to take his mother-in-law to Marseille Airport. So we took her up to the airport, dropped her off and then I told him on the drive back.
And so I’m driving and I’m talking away about all the stuff that happened in my head and the drink and the psychosis and the hospitalisation and getting arrested and all this sort of stuff. And I can see him kind of going “This is all a bit weird.” And he knew I’d had the breakdown because I’d known him for a long long time but I don’t think he ever knew quite, just what it had involved. And anyway so we’d yatter away like this and then eventually he said “Well look I’m not bothered if you’re not bothered.” And I said “Yes but what if I’m bothered.” He said “Well I’m still not bothered.”
And I thought that was a quite good signal. Because in a sense he was saying “Look I know all that’s happened but as far as I’m concerned I’ve made a bigger, deeper, broader judgement about you that I think you could do the job or want you to do the job. And I don’t think it’ll be a problem. And to be honest it never really was a problem after that.
I think it’s a very very difficult area this because all I can say is it’s always benefitted me to be open. I can’t in all honesty say to everybody in all of their different circumstances “It will benefit you to be open.” Because the truth is I’m afraid because of the stigma, because of the taboo, because of the discrimination that does sometimes exist, it could be worse for some people. And I think if all of us could somehow make the leap together to be more open then all of us the ill and the non ill would be better off.
News stories about Alastair Campbell and mental health
Alastair Campbell is Mind Champion of the Year – Accepting the award, Alastair said: “Change is happening, and I really feel we are close to the tipping point in terms of people’s greater understanding and society’s greater openness about mental illness. I am pleased and proud that people think I have played a part in that.”
What do you think about the issues raised in this video?
The number of people with mental health issues being readmitted to hospital in Tayside within a month of their discharge is increasing.
More than 16% of Tayside adults discharged from hospital, having been admitted on mental health grounds, were back within a month in 2016/17, according to new figures.
The readmission rate has increased from 11.9% in 2012/13.
NHS Tayside is above the Scottish average for mental health hospital readmissions in the most recent statistics compiled by ISD Scotland.
At 16.3%, it was behind only NHS boards in Dumfries & Galloway and Lothian.
The majority of patients readmitted after an initial stay in hospital were affected by mood disorders (36.9%), delusional type disorders (19.2%) and adult personality and behavioural disorders (15.8%).
North East Scottish Conservative MSP Bill Bowman said the increase in readmissions for depression is “very troubling”.
The ISD figures also recorded NHS Tayside region had the fourth highest suicide rate in Scotland, behind Forth Valley, Highlands and Orkney – 14.4 per 100,000 between 2012 and 2016.
Mr Bowman said: “At some point, one in four people will experience a mental health condition.
“NHS Tayside staff are doing their best to deal with the growing number of people who come to them with symptoms of depression and low mood.
“Because Tayside has such a high suicide rate, NHS Tayside needs resources to dig into why people come back to hospital so quickly.
“If it’s because of underfunding in areas run by councils and community healthcare partnerships, the SNP government needs to assess the potential damage it is doing by making cuts to local authority budgets.”
A spokesperson for NHS Tayside said: “Mental illnesses can be unpredictable and there are many reasons why a patient may require to be readmitted following discharge from hospital.
“Patients can sometimes experience a new episode of illness for which admission to hospital is the most appropriate course of treatment.
“Patients are discharged following clinical assessment from a consultant psychiatrist and are followed up locally within the community.
“There is no direct relationship between the length of time a patient is in hospital and the need to be readmitted.”
She added: “Anyone can become suicidal; the reasons can be different and very complex and it is not always due to mental illness. Each suicide is a tragedy and the impact on those left behind lasts a lifetime.
“Every suicide in Tayside is comprehensively reviewed by the Tayside multi-agency Suicide Review Group to look at the circumstances surrounding each individual case.
“f people are feeling suicidal, the best thing to do is talk and tell someone how they are feeling. Speak to someone you can trust or call a helpline. If you’re worried that someone else is suicidal, ask them – asking someone directly about their feelings can help them.”
Further help and information can be found by downloading the “Suicide? Help!” app, visiting www.suicidehelp.co.uk or calling NHS 24 on 111, Samaritans on Freephone 116 123 or Breathing Space on 0800 838587 or www.breathingspacescotland.co.uk
An independent inquiry into mental health services in Tayside is currently under way.