Dan Carter looks into mental health issues
This week we interview Gareth Neil who is 28 years old about his experience of mental health issues. In shocking figures men under 50 in the UK are 3 times more likely to commit suicide than any other group.
So, Gareth, what has been your experience of mental health issues?
My own personal experience of mental health issues goes a very long way back. I had a very challenging upbringing and throughout my life I have suffered with really dark, horrible thoughts, night terrors, anxiety and a feeling of not being worthy, not being accepted in the community. I had like a barrier around seeking treatment, I refused to take medication, or I’d go get medication and take it for 3 days and the voice in my head would be like ‘why are you taking that? You don’t a pill to get better’. Just recently, about 6 weeks I tried to harm myself, I tried to jump off a bridge which was probably one of the scariest moments in my life and that was just a very dark day, not every day is that dark, but that day was particularly dark, but it has led to me seeking treatment and sticking to it this time and I am now on a mission to tackle mental health, we will be doing a fundraiser in Canal street later this year and most recently I was involved in a mental health project that called “What saves you! By Rebel Royal #whatsavesu
What pulled you back from the edge?
Physically, two passers-by stopped me by speaking with me, holding me through the railing and just trying to get me to open up and climb back over the barrier. Then the police got there, and they got out the car and they promised to get me the help I needed. They took me straight to hospital and also checked up on me a week later... since then I’ve really been pushing forward, I’ve taken some time off work to just rest and to really get back on my feet. For the first week I just didn’t get out of bed but having friends and family around has massively helped. You just don’t realise how loved you are sometimes and it’s hard to remember that in your darkest moments.
As a gay man do you think that mental health issues are particular predominate in the LGBT community?
I think mental health issues impact more than just the LGBT community, it affects so many people from a range communities and I think that’s what makes mental health such a massive issue. It impacts all walks of life and can affect people who have never suffered before… I think it’s important to spot the signs and speak up when we recognise someone is acting out of character, maybe they aren’t enjoying things the usually love or they aren’t eating, sleeping or struggling to see hope… all those are signs of depression and you can see even more signs on the NHS website. Being an LGBT person I do think with the LGBT community there is a very broad range of people who grew up in homes that weren’t accepting or they went through trauma or they struggle with homophobic attacks and many other personal issues… However it’s a really difficult subject to put in a category of “this is what causes mental health” because sometimes there could be no major event triggering depression yet you suffer a bout and suddenly those everyday situations that we all go through seem unmanageable. There are so many variables and causes, my only advice would be if you are struggling or you know you are not feeling yourself talk to your family, friends and doctor. I think it resonates personally with me more in the LGBT community because I’m a gay man and have seen other people on our community start to speak up… a really poignant moment over the last few weeks was with a close friend of mine, he had been reaching out and really been trying to give me support and I went over for dinner to see him and his partner which lead to him opening up about his own battle with mental health, this is someone I have known for years and he takes medication? He is going through his own journey with this? I never knew, nor did he know that I suffered. This really affected me and what became very apparent to me was that I have great, beautiful friendships across this community who I go out with on Friday, Saturday or out for dinner or on holidays as a group but we do not know that someone is battling with their own mental health and this is those in my inner circle who I consider best friends! If I was to think about this from a LGBT perspective I think the problem is that we don’t really open up enough about how we are feeling. We as a community need to talk more and take a moment on those nights out to really step back for a moment and check in! Schedule some time with the people you care about and talk to each other! It’s something I need to work on myself and I am personally taking more time to check in on those who I love.
Do you think as a wider issue that speaks a lot about masculinity or what people think a man should be?
I think from my own personal experience I don’t struggle with my masculinity. Some days I wake up and want to be more boyish and sometimes I want to put my make-up on, so I don’t really have an opinion on that because I don’t live it. I don’t like to conform to a “type of gay” I’m simply myself and that for me is what I find makes me happiest. When you go back to the statistic that more men are committing suicide in the UK, I think it goes deeper than that. I don’t think it matters if you’re a husband with 3 kids, or a gay man or a straight man I think it goes much deeper than that and I think that there are different factors into every bodies mental health whether that be upbringing, current life pressures or work, the list as I said are hard to capture as the root cause varies for anyone suffering. I do know one thing is for sure, I am happiest when I am being myself, when I want to sit and put on some foundation whilst singing at the top of my voice I feel great! If I could give any advice it would be do what you love and what makes you feel good because ultimately it is those moments that makes us smile inside and that’s what gets you through – don’t worry too much about what tribe you fit in, fem, mask etc. We are all born to be individual and that’s what makes us beautiful! Focus your whole attention on loving yourself because self-love is so important… sorry to quote RuPaul here but “unless they paying your bills pay the bitches no mind”
What is your view on mental health services in the UK?
I think things are getting a lot better. When I was 16, I first got support for mental health I took some medication, if that’s what you call support, I was given some tablets and put on a never ending waiting list for therapy and told ‘good luck and off you go’. My most recent experience, one; I was given medication and the medication is working and I’ve stuck to it this time, I’m 8 weeks into that and I’m really seeing a difference in my mood and my energy which is wonderful and what I needed. I’ve been offered 3 different types of counselling, I have had a meeting with ‘healthy minds’, I’ve been the hospital, so I do think mental health has really come on leaps and bounds in terms of the treatment however I have to go back to this, when you’re in the moment it can feel really difficult to reach out and say, ‘guys, I’ve been having suicidal thoughts for the last 3 months’ or ‘I’m crying myself to sleep every night’. I personally couldn’t quite articulate that I had a problem until it was too late and I think that was a massive wake-up call, whilst the NHS is getting better in the service that it provides, if I can’t tell those people who are so close to me what is going on inside my head how do other people feel? Is this the reason why people don’t get help because they don’t feel they can say ‘I’m really struggling and I need you’ – We all have to work together to fix that!
Do you feel that there is stigma around mental health?
Yes. I think the stigma around mental health is something that dates back years and years so I think when you look at British culture the one thing that really stands out to me is we are a put on a brave face, you hear statements like “don’t cry, you’re a boy”, “man up” or “don’t show let people see you weak” when in fact showing raw emotion and being brave enough to be truly yourself and express yourself is the bravest thing anyone can do! I think those statements do more damage than good and it’s a real shame! If you’re going through all of these things and you’re still managing to function every single day you’re not giving yourself enough credit. I think that stigma needs to be broken and for me it goes back to the fact I couldn’t tell my friends and so for me there is a deep-rooted issue that needs to be addressed and this got me thinking, there could be other people out there feeling just as I was. This is why I am now sharing my story and reaching out because we all have responsibility to open up and embrace this illness. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there and lets all learn to be kinder to one another as the power of kindness is so underestimated!
Even if you can tell friends and even if those friends would be supportive, they themselves might not know where to sign post you to and they don’t know what to do. Would you agree?
Yes and no, sometimes people don’t know what to say or do and if you’re not dealing with mental health that’s to be expected. Let’s throw an example, if I’m struggling with my mental health and you’ve never encountered mental health and I come to you and I say, ‘I’m struggling with my thoughts and I’m worried about what I’ll do’ that’s going to knock you a little bit as you’ll probably think ‘oh my god, how do I help him?’ and there is no shame in that Just take a moment to listen to the person and offer support in a way that is genuine to who you are, my friends try to make me laugh every morning with silly meme or call me in the evening and we have a vent and all of it works wonders. You will be so surprised how many people who are dealing with mental health who have gone to therapy and learnt coping mechanisms that they can suggest, and please just take the medication! It’s okay! Your networks can help steer you on the right path so you’ve got to be brave in the first instance and speak up! Remember when you do open up the person who receives the message might not be a medically trained person but they can talk to you or watch a film or will just do something that helps you. Always seek professional help! Remember, it’s okay not to be okay!
You have been working with an organisation called the What saves you project? by Rebel Royal, tell us about that?
Rebel Royal is a really beautiful person and I’m so thankful that I got the opportunity to be involved in his project. Rebel Royal is an American model who is very established, fashionable, sassy guy and about 2 weeks ago I was on Instagram and he was looking for people who were struggling with mental health or people who just weren’t feeling great and he wanted us to send messages about what saves you and I thought it was an amazing thing that we’re actually focusing on what actually makes me smile in the morning and I think that’s a really powerful message so I did submit a video to him and we got chatting and I think that if you look at the video on my Instagram you can see that my message on there was to get help, talk to Samaritans, talk to the helplines that we have got here because if you can’t speak to a friend because they won’t get it there are services there. Back to Rebel though he really made me reflect on my passions with his video, in the #whatsavesu challenge other people struggling with mental health were saying “what saves them” and this varied from friends or family or making art, each other, music and fashion and it made me realise in those dark days there is still something that every one of us is passionate about and something that instils hope. When I’m down my go to is music, it uplifts me and it got me thinking that in those moments, if we can’t talk you should think on your passions. Think about what is saving you. I want everyone who reads this to speak up about what saves them followed by the "#whatsavesu”
Do you have any closing remarks for those who might be struggling?
I think my closing remarks would be, it is okay to not be okay. I think if you’re the person struggling right now with your mental health remember that tomorrow is a new day and those feelings won’t last forever and even though you’re in this moment right now where you feel like you’re never going to get through it, remember there are so many people who you’ve had an impact on and you probably didn’t even realise it! Don’t be ashamed to go to a doctor, get some medication, go to therapy or speak to friends and family because people want you to succeed. This isn’t your forever, simply a moment in the shade on your journey! Thank you to those who are close to me who have been a rock and sat with me through the toughest days and also helped bring my smile back!
Thanks to Gareth for opening up there about a really difficult but necessary topic. If you are struggling remember to contact Samaritans on their UK helpline number, 116 123 and you kind more information by going to this link belowRead More