I can remember the night vividly. I was playing football with a few of my friends at the local pitches. The rage that hit me as we were knocked out of the tournament was like never before. I can remember being so angry that I kicked the bags next to the goals containing our stuff, smashing a friend’s phone screen in the process. The rest of the boys were laughing as I was going ballistic and this was all over a game of football – I regret it to this day but looking back it was just what I’d needed.
I knew at this point that there was something wrong with me. For the rest of evening, I said nothing apart from apologising to my friend about his screen and offering to pay for a new one. I had never wanted to cry so much in my life but I held it together as I didn’t want to totally embarrass myself in front of my friends.
As soon as I got home, I rushed upstairs, avoiding any conversation with my family. I knew exactly the person to ring, my gran. She was the best listener anyone could have hoped for – always looking to help anybody out. I poured my heart out, told her every issue I’d ever had in the run up to this point whether it be substance abuse, entire summers spent solely in my room or the fact that my confidence with girls was at an all-time low. I didn’t particularly want to do anything or go anywhere, even pulling out of a boys’ holiday with some of my best friends.
I was spending days at school, working at McDonald’s at the weekends and not enjoying a single minute of it. Rejection from Heriot-Watt University. Rejection from IKEA looking to upgrade my part-time job made me feel like a total loser.
I’d been made Head Boy at Penicuik High School but felt like a below average student and kept saying that I’d been appointed because “the staff felt sorry for me.”
As I sat there, blubbing away, my gran told me to see a doctor. It was her that took me to my first doctor’s appointment and then counselling session. We’d had my future counsellor, obviously I didn’t know at the time, from MYPAS (Midlothian Young People’s Advice Service) speak to the school and I had previously put my name down on the sly but the doctor arranged an appointment sooner for me knowing that I was in trouble.
The counselling was great. It’s an experience that I went into with the most pessimistic approach possible. I couldn’t have seen how talking to a complete stranger who didn’t know me, my family, friends or girlfriend was in any way going to benefit me given she couldn’t put names to faces and wouldn’t know them if she bumped into them in the street. My counsellor, Angela Robb, was excellent and didn’t care about them, this was about me and what I was going through. I saw her for 12 sessions, because when I’d got to the end of my initial 10, I felt as though I wasn’t necessarily ‘there’ yet so she was able to provide me with more sessions.
Robb said: “Counselling is unique to each client and whilst there are some common factors in every therapeutic relationship, I tailor how I work, taking my lead from each person. It’s key to successful counselling to be able to form safe and trusting therapeutic relationships. I feel that I do this and my client’s outcomes and feedback suggest this is true.”
But it was not only me going through such a horrendous ordeal. Some of the statistics and facts are alarming. According to menshealth.com, 9% of men go through depression on a daily basis, more than 6 million men. On top of that, 3 million men are hit with a form of anxiety every day.
Why is this the case? I spoke to Jane Anderson, a mental health nurse at Queen Margaret Hospital in Dunfermline.
“I have been a mental health nurse for eight years and have probably nursed hundreds of patients, some you’ll never see again and others I’ve nursed several times. As difficult as it can be some days it is also very rewarding.”
Anderson says: “We are a recovery focused ward and building a therapeutic relationship initially with patients can be challenging. However, when there is an understanding that our goals are the same – ie to get a better level of health and be discharged – working alongside a patient developing care plans to suit their individual needs and treating people with respect. I don’t expect thanks but even seeing someone smile when they have been so unwell is a fantastic feeling.”
She said there was still an unwillingness among men to admit that they have a mental health issue. “By the time they are admitted either informally of formally [sectioned under the mental health act] there is some recognition from the person that they are unwell. In the community, however, stigma is still very prevalent. The perception that males are raised to be stoic, brave and strong further enforces this belief.”
I asked her what factors could lead to compound mental health issues. “Lack of knowledge and understanding, embarrassment, feeling of failure, fear of letting others down and looking weak,” Anderson said. “This can be a generational issue, older males are less likely to be open about their mental health, younger males are more open although don’t necessarily accept it.”
Although there is more discussion of these issues in society than ever before, I began to wonder what more could be done to raise awareness. I asked Anderson if she felt that men could be reached by information during entertainment and sporting events.
She said: “I suppose the ‘problem’ is that mental health isn’t a nice happy topic so would turn people off from watching. We live in a consumer society, happiness and laughter brings viewers and readers and makes money for the big television and media companies.”
I’m a huge football fan and it amazes me when I see people literally living my dream who aren’t entirely satisfied and perhaps feel that they never will be. The cases in Scotland with David Cox of Cowdenbeath who was taunted by a rival fan, “Away and hang yourself and do it right this time,” and James Keatings (formerly of my beloved Heart of Midlothian) recently sharing his battles on Twitter despite playing for three of the country’s biggest clubs. Even a Barcelona academy graduate, Bojan Krkic, came out and said: “I had anxiety attacks but no one wants to talk about that. Football’s not interested.”
That speaks volumes to me about the prevalence of mental health problems. Krkic has graduated from one of the leading academies in world football, has played in several of Europe’s major leagues (Spain, Italy, England, Germany and the Netherlands) and has presumably amassed a healthy standard of living through an astronomical wage but still suffers.
It’s not a new problem. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was said to have reportedly experienced severe depression and supposedly contemplated suicide, often weeping uncontrollably. A key figure in the scientific revolution, Sir Isaac Newton, was seemingly psychotic, and prone to dramatic mood swings with numerous authors suggesting he was bipolar or schizophrenic. Vincent Van Gogh, one of the most famous artists of all time, was another affected. His enthusiasm for art came along with his fast-paced painting followed by deep depression and an apparent bipolar disorder.
In more recent times, many in the entertainment industry have committed suicide due to mental health problems. Frightened Rabbit’s singer Scott Hutchison and the actor Robin Williams are all examples of people who, seemingly with the world at their feet, who have taken their own lives. It should never have to be this way.
Some may see suicide as the brave way out but the most courageous act you can take if you are suffering is to do something about it yourself and surround yourself with a loving family, supportive friends and people that ultimately want to put you right.
And, please, please, get help.
Adam Kennedy is a student journalist at Fife College
If you need help
0800 83 85 87
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – for men
0800 58 58 58
Papyrus – for people under 35
0800 068 41 41
Childline – for children and young people under 19
The Silver Line – for older people
0800 4 70 80 90