Statistics say one in four people will suffer mental health problems in any given year. To put that into perspective, that’s maybe half a dozen work colleagues, four members of your rugby team and a couple of close family members.
In our industry, mental health problems are pretty commonplace, according to the readers’ survey carried out by this magazine earlier this year.
However, most people choose to suffer in silence. They are afraid that others will perceive them as weak, or they’re ashamed and racked with guilt for feeling that way.
I had always had mood swings, but it never occurred to me that I was suffering from a mental illness called bipolar disorder. Then in 2006 my sister took her own life, and that triggered a deterioration in my own mental health. Bit by bit, the depression dismantled everything, but still, I didn’t seek help.
When I had my first breakdown four years ago, my way of dealing with things was to shut myself away. I was ashamed of myself for feeling this way, filled with guilt for letting everyone down and feeling worthless.
How could I, a 6ft 4in 18-stone ex-rugby player be so weak? I went to some dark places, which four months later led me to attempt suicide.
Finally, at rock bottom, I realised I needed help. After a lot of soul-searching, I opened up to my family and friends.
The response was overwhelming — the support I received made me realise that mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of.
A friend pointed me in the direction of Time to Change. It’s a brilliant campaign run by the charities Mind and Rethink, which aims to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness.
The website has blogs and testimonies from fellow sufferers. I read one from a man called Dave, which mirrored exactly my own bipolar experiences and was the first time I realised I might have that illness. I immediately felt less alone. At the end of his blog, he was starting to recover, which gave me a lot of hope that I might also get better.
And unexpectedly, friends who had mental health problems but had kept themselves to themselves shared their experiences with me.
I hope those people that opened up found it as cathartic as I did. I was diagnosed with bipolar two years ago, and am fighting it with medication and talking therapy. I have a long way to go, but I’m feeling positive about the future.
Time to Change subsequently asked me if I’d be willing to be a champion on the Men’s Health side, which I was proud to do. Men find it more difficult than women to talk about their mental health; and women are more likely to seek help for mental health problems. Sadly, men are also three times more likely to take their own lives, which is why it’s vital to get men talking more openly about their mental health. Time to Change have developed some materials aimed specifically at men, which include a brand new video and tips on how to be there for a mate.
So please, if you know someone who is struggling, a kind word or a hug can go a long way. And if you are suffering, you need to talk. It’s hard to expose yourself mentally at first, but it’s the best thing I ever did.
Visit the Time to Change website for details.
Tim McKenna is licensee of the Bulls Head in Blaby, Leicester and a Time to Change ambassador.