Male mental health: I lost my dad to suicide at 17, and then experienced depression myself

It was in the second year of college that my dad became ill with depression.

As the youngest of three brothers, I had been living at home, with my middle brother at university, and my eldest brother living in London. It was so upsetting seeing Dad, who used to be full of energy, warmth and creativity, now spending his days lacking any motivation, depressed and in a very dark place.

Friends and family knew my dad as someone who had a passion for renovating classic cars, diving and filming. It was his passion for filming and diving that was the reason for starting his company in the late 70s, designing some of the first custom underwater camera housings for the likes of the BBC and ITV to film beautiful footage from under the sea.
However, during the 80s, there was a severe global economic recession hitting many businesses in the UK, and Dad’s was no exception. He ended up having to close his company.

I didn’t realise this at the time, but I am sure this must have been very upsetting for Dad, but he soon found another job, and we had many happy years as a family.

I will never know what triggered my dad’s depression, but the stress of moving house in the mid-90s was when things dramatically changed.

Even the simplest things seemed to be impossible for him. As a teenager seeing my dad depressed was incredibly hard, and I would get angry thinking I should be the one lying on the sofa and watching daytime TV.

As a family, we didn’t talk to anyone about my dad’s depression in the hope that he was going to get better, but it didn’t. He tried on a number of occasions to take his life and very sadly in early 1995 my dad killed himself.

My brothers and I tried to be strong for our mum, but we never received any professional help or counselling as a family.

I didn’t know what to do and had so many different emotions running through me from anger, helplessness and shame, but the overwhelming feeling was one of sadness that this amazing man was no longer here.

For me, the best solution was to not deal with it and bury these emotions very deeply away.

My friends at college were shocked but supportive and in particular just knowing that they were there was a real comfort. However, as a group of blokes in our teens, we didn’t know how to talk about our emotions and sadly this is still the case for so many men today.

After leaving university, I had started my first proper job at a large internet company at the turn of the millennium. It was the dot-com boom, full of excitement and opportunity.

I put myself under a lot of pressure in the role, and this was probably the catalyst for me getting ill.

One morning it came to a head when I woke up in my flat in a complete panic and scared. I called my brother, realising that something wasn’t right.

He ended up taking me home to my mum’s. I don’t remember a lot about these few days other than feeling scared, panicked and exhausted.

It wasn’t long before I was sectioned for my safety and ended up in the same mental health unit as my dad. While the hospital had some kind staff, it relied heavily on medication and the only talking you did was to other patients. It wasn’t a great hospital, to be honest, and the funding just wasn’t there.

After a week or so I left the hospital and returned home to Mum’s. I was put on anti-depressants, but I was still feeling very depressed.

I don’t know how long it was exactly, but after some weeks I decided that I had had enough.

One morning I went to the shops and bought some tablets. When I got home, I swallowed them and went to bed.

After lying in bed for a while, I rang my brother again and told him what I had done. Luckily a mutual friend was nearby and able to drive me to A&E.

While I was in the hospital again, my mum realised that I had health insurance from the internet company that I worked for and ended up being referred as a day visitor to the Priory Hospital for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

It was a different world compared to what Dad and I had experienced when we were first ill. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy involved sitting in a room with other people talking about how you felt and trying to challenge your thought processes. Over time it was this talking that made me better.

The stigma associated with mental health means that men are less likely to ask for help, making suicide the biggest killer in men under the age of 45 in the UK.

Female suicide rates are also at their highest in a decade according to the Samaritans.

I have been involved in the Heads Together campaign spearheaded by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry to end the stigma around mental health.

Heads Together bring together a team of charity partners that have achieved great progress in tackling stigma, raising awareness, and providing vital help for people with mental health problems.

The team covers a wide range of mental health issues that are close to The Duke and Duchess and Prince Harry’s passions.

I have certainly found the benefits in the last few months about speaking openly to colleagues, friends and family about my mental health and the positive impact it is having on reducing the stigma.

If these conversations can be replicated across the country, I do believe that we can end the stigma associated with mental health in this country and most importantly dramatically reduce the lives lost to suicide.

For some people, a conversation with a friend, family member or colleague about their mental health can be the cure or at least a start towards feeling better and getting the right help and support.

I ran the Virgin Money London Marathon this year with my good friend John for Heads Together and raised money for the fantastic mental health charity Best Beginnings. John had lost his sister last year to postnatal depression, and it was the tipping point for me on why I needed to speak more publicly about mental health.

Over 39,000 runners were given Heads Together headbands, and it really did feel like the mental health marathon. Finishing the marathon was tough for both of us but we crossed the line together, and it just proves that physical and mental health are equally important.

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