By Andrew Murphy
On Sunday November 27, one of my childhood heroes, Gary Speed, was found dead at his home.
I can still remember watching him run out on that hallowed Wembley turf as my childhood dreams of FA Cup glory were shattered twice in successive seasons. To hear now, 12 years on, that Gary Speed had killed himself, made me ponder who else I knew might be suffering in silence as I did.
According to national statistics, women are far more likely to be treated for depression than men. But Samaritans say men are three times more likely to commit suicide. The maths just don’t add up.
The times they are a-changing. Men now feel comfortable wearing pink (certain men, admittedly), yet still find it extremely difficult to discuss mental illness.
Overall, it’s a fairly miserable day when you’re diagnosed with depression.
When this happened to me a few years ago, I was told: “Suffering from a mental illness does not make you ‘mentally ill.’”
In fact, one in four British adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in any one year, and one in six people you know are suffering right at this moment.
It’s easy to bounce around statistics without truly comprehending what they mean, especially when the lines of what constitutes a ‘diagnosable mental health problem’ seem so blurred, but the point remains that there’s something we need to talk about and we’re just not doing it.
Suicide remains the most common cause of death in men under 35 and, quite frankly, is never the answer.
I started on anti-depressants when I was 17, and was warned at the time that the drugs would motivate me before they lifted my mood. Any suicidal urges would be magnified.
A week later, I overdosed on 48 paracetamol and spent the next few days recovering in hospital.
Other than being a complete waste of £3.96, this experience should have taught me I really couldn’t manage this illness by myself.
In continuing to live a lie, I hadn’t even given the drugs a chance to work. In fact, it wasn’t until this point that my own mother learned of my suffering.
Had I opened up then, I could have saved myself hours of time having secret meetings with countless care co-ordinators, counsellors, psychologists and mental health doctors.
But the longer it goes on, the harder it is to tell anyone. I wasn’t even being honest with the doctors trying to help me and I hadn’t spoken to my mother about it since she brought me home from hospital. It’s no wonder depression is so under diagnosed among young men.
There is a stigma surrounding the condition, and a lack of awareness that breeds embarrassment for its sufferers. Really we should just cheer up. Stop being so glum.
People feel guilty for suffering, so maybe they’ll self-harm (the UK has one of the highest rates of self-harm in Europe). Possibly they’ll end up in hospital.
I have had two stays in hospital, and you certainly don’t forget the first time a 6ft by 6ft man in an open dressing gown and y-fronts introduces himself as Jesus Christ.
For someone suffering from depression it should never get to that point – psychiatric wards should not be home to people who feel they should be embarrassed by what is actually a common illness.
The first time I was picked up by police and taken to hospital, I was standing in the middle of a main road.
Their original idea was to take me home and that I be looked after there, but upon escaping out of my bathroom window and running back up the same road for fear of capture, they had no choice but to section me.
The truth of the matter is that I wasn’t psychotic. My paranoia had manifested itself solely due to me suffering alone.
Had I not been ashamed to talk reasonably about my depression, then I’d have acted reasonably and not put mine or anyone else’s lives in danger.
Really, there’s no need to be embarrassed. The truth is that many people are arseholes, and as a human being you have to deal with that.
Quite simply, some of us are better at dealing with it than others.
In the beginning, it’s fair to say I dealt with my depression less than admirably.
When finally you do open up to someone, they will almost certainly ask why you hadn’t just said something in the first place. You’ll wish you had.
Statistically speaking, 10 per cent of us will be diagnosed with depression in our lifetimes.
That’s one in ten of the men who will read this article.
If you are a sufferer, the bad news is you are likely to always be. That’s why you need people on your side. Whatever helps you to deal with it, don’t suffer in silence.
Get help, cheer up
The Kingston Samaritans
12 St. Andrew’s Road, Surbiton, Surrey, KT6 4DT
Phone: 020 8399 6676
UK hotline for suicide
Phone: 020 8554 9004
Kingston University’s counselling service
(Free to all KU students)
Health Centre, Penrhyn Road campus
Phone: 0208 417 2172
Read more stories about KU students suffering from depression in the next issue of The River.