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 former Abertay University student has urged people struggling with mental health issues to speak out this Christmas after support given to her helped her graduate.
Laura Jackson graduated last month with a Masters in International Human Resource Management.
It was a proud achievement for the 23 year-old, who says it wouldn’t have happened without the support provided by Abertay’s Mental Health Advisor and Student Services team throughout her studies.
“A few years ago, I was at a really low point in my life. I had just started a business degree in Glasgow but, due to health and mental health issues, I felt so isolated that I dropped out after only a few weeks and had to go back to living with my mum,” she said.
“If you’d told me then that I’d soon be graduating with a Masters with Distinction, I would never have believed you.”
Throughout her three years at Abertay – two completing a BA in Business Management, and one at Masters level – Laura attended regular sessions with its mental health advisor David Cameron.
“Because I’d had a few months out after leaving Glasgow, when I started at Abertay I wanted to see what was available to help support my studies,” she said.
“The Advisory Service not only provided me with practical resources, including a study plan and a laptop with special dyslexia software that helped with my coursework but, because I’d informed them I had been diagnosed with anxiety, they also referred me to David.”
This ongoing support ended up being key to Laura’s progression through her degree as she engaged with the service when she felt overwhelmed juggling coursework deadlines, a part-time job and a spate of health issues, including an underactive thyroid and learning difficulties dyslexia, dyspraxia and dysgraphia.
“There were so many times, when things were tough and my mental health was suffering, that I was close to giving up,” she said.
“Knowing that support was there and available was what kept me going. Some of my friends have mental health issues of their own which meant they weren’t always able to help when I needed them. David was a constant.”
Following Graduation, Laura has moved back to Glasgow and is currently an intern at a women-only HR practice, while she thinks about her next move.
By sharing her story, Laura hopes she can help inspire others to keep going, even when mental health issues try to stand in their way.
Laura said: “My advice to anyone out there who feels like I did is to not put too much pressure on yourself to be perfect. Speak to someone, get a study plan and let people help you. You’re not letting anyone down by focusing on yourself now and again.”
Abertay’s Mental Health Advisor, David Cameron, said: “I am pleased I have been able to contribute a little and help Laura. She had a lot to cope with, both with her physical health and mental health, therefore her achievements deserve great credit.”
A number of organisations will be available over the festive period for those seeking support or help:
Breathing Space Scotland – provides telephone counselling. Open: Weekdays – Monday to Thursday 6pm to 2am; Weekend -Friday 6pm to Monday 6am. Their phone number is 0800 83 85 87.
Insights Counselling – a counselling services that provides confidential, non-judgemental, 1-2-1 counselling by appointment. For further details you can phone 01382-305706 or visit them online.
Samaritans – provides a 24/7, 365 day a year telephone service – Their phone number is 116 123 or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Schoolchildren from across Dundee have been given a shot of inspiration by Scots billionaire Sir Tom Hunter as part of an event to find new ways of tackling issues affecting young people.
Around 120 youngsters attended Abertay University’s Innovation Lab as part of a design initiative to tackle bullying, stress and mental health issues.
It is hoped new methods developed during the session as part of the national Year of the Young People 2018 could go on to directly influence Dundee City Council policies.
Sir Tom, who delivered a welcome to the participants before a day of design, brainstorming, workshops and presentations, hailed the importance of involving youngsters in shaping decisions.
He said: “Putting policy into the hands of those the policies will impact upon makes absolute sense.
“Our young people are Scotland’s future and we need to engage with them far more to co-design that future where opportunity prevails for all.”
Groups of youngsters in attendance were made up of S4 to S6 pupils from all Dundee schools, as well as others aged up to 26 years old from organisations such as Lift Off, Family Nurse Partnership, Dundee Carers Centre and Dundee Youth Council.
They also heard a closing address by Gavin Oattes, award-winning entrepreneur and motivational speaker for workshop provider Tree of Knowledge.
Ideas from the day will be collated and presented back to city councillors, with the aim of informing future policy, affecting change and creating a legacy of service improvement for future generations.
Dundee City Council children and families service convener Stewart Hunter said it had been a “fantastic experience for everyone who took part” and a “fitting way of celebrating the Year of Young People”.
He added: “The input of young people into a range of topics will lead to some very interesting ideas and I will be very interested to hear their opinions on these issues.”
In addition to the workshops, the young people also took part in taster sessions across a selection of Abertay’s academic departments.
Those on offer included Games and Arts, Cybersecurity, Marketing, Business Management, Accounting and Finance, Law, Food Innovation, Forensics, Science, Civil Engineering, Sociology, Psychology and Mental Health.
Abertay University principal Professor Nigel Seaton said: “Bringing young people into the decision making process for new policy on these important issues is a fantastic idea.
“I have no doubt that Innovation Lab will bring a fresh perspective to the table.