A Confession of Depression

Hi. I’m Ben I’m 23 years old and a student
at the University of St Andrews, living in Dundee. I live with depression and anxiety.
A few years ago it got so bad that I tried to take my own life. Things are a lot more
positive for me now and this is the story of how I turned my life around. I grew up in Monifieth, just outside Dundee and I suppose I had a pretty normal childhood.
But for some reason that I didn’t understand at the time, there was always a feeling of
unhappiness lurking in the background. It wasn’t so much that I felt down but more I
had no reason to feel the way I did because, you know, it’s quite common to feel sad about
things but usually there’s some cause or factor that leads you to feel that way and quite
often I just felt absolutely terrible when my life, from the outside looking in, was
very good and I had no reason to be sad. Feeling hopeless was quite a recurring theme at the
time. I perceived there to be a lot of hard work to life. I didn’t choose to be born but
all of a sudden I’ve got to look after myself, do chores around the house. I had all these
exams – I was studying a Social Sciences HNC at Dundee College at the time. I had to keep
my girlfriend happy and whilst trying to juggle all this I was getting panic attacks. I felt
very agoraphobic a lot out in Dundee if it was quite crowded I’d get quite nervous. So
I just seemed quite hopeless no matter how much effort I put into things, life would
always be quite unenjoyable and I think that when I tried to take my life, it had just
sort of reached its peak and I really saw no good future for myself. Me and my girlfriend
of the time, we were staying here at my parents’ house and I think we’d had an argument and
it was during the night when she fell asleep, I was still awake with all these thoughts
going through my head and I went through to the kitchen and there were a lot of Co-codamol
pills in the cupboard which have Codeine and paracetamol in them and they were my mum’s
for nerve pain she’d had a while back but she didn’t use them any more and I took quite
a lot of them and then I went to bed and it was a really, it was a very surreal night.
I remember waking up quite often, feeling like I was drifting in and out of consciousness.
It was a really weird, dream-like feeling I had. but I woke up in the morning. Clearly,
it hadn’t worked but I spent the next day being sick, pretty violently all day. No-one
knew I’d done it, though. I just told them I had a bug and it wasn’t until a few weeks
later that they found out. It was a pretty confusing time for all of us. My parents were
obviously very shocked. I come across as quite happy and quite lively to most people who
meet me so it came as a shock to my parents when I told them about it. They found it quite
hard to believe at first. I wanted to share my experiences with others in the hope of
helping people who were having similar experiences to mine. I created a blog post and for many
people reading it, this was the first they knew of my problems. I was keen to hear what
my family thought now, looking back on those events so I asked my mum and my sister how
they had felt. I wasn’t really aware of how deep your depression was and how it was affecting
you. I didn’t realise quite the extent of how unhappy you were so, yeah. Didn’t know.
I was absolutely devastated. So sad that you had felt so bad that you wanted to do that.
I felt a little bit of guilt because the tablets were there that you decided to take. I was
scared in case you would try it again. It was horrible. Yeah, I didn’t find out until
I actually read your article and I was feeling so many emotions, like obviously I felt absolutely
gutted and heart-broken. I was also relieved that it was an unsuccessful attempt but it
really puts things into perspective, like one day I could have woken up and, you know,
I didn’t have my brother or my best pal any more. Gutting. What kind of help do you think
would have been best for me? You tried the psychiatrist route but that didn’t really
help you. But initially, I just wanted you to go to the doctor to see what they could
do for you. I think for you, you needed more talking therapy as well as a mix of anti-depressants,
so instead of the psychiatrist, I think maybe a counsellor would have been better for you.
Someone who would just listen to what you had to say so you can kind of get out your
emotions and how you were feeling, as well as taking anti-depressants to kind of, you
know, settle your mood a bit more. How do you think I’ve changed since I started to
tackle depression? You’re dealing with it really well, to the best of your ability,
now. You take a holistic approach because as well as taking medication, you’re helping
others. You’re thinking about your diet, your sleeping habits, exercise which will help.
I think because you’re trying to get it out in the public more, to make people more aware
of it and to talk about it, rather than be a taboo subject, I think that that’s helping
you deal with it as well, helping others. You’re much more of a confident person now
and I can see that you’re happier. And I know that you’re not quite there yet and you do
still get down but not to the extent that you were before and it’s just amazing to see
how far you’ve come on and that I’m just so proud of you for helping other people and
that. It’s amazing. Yeah, it was quite interesting talking to my mum and my sister. Despite the
fact that I live with them, it’s not something that we often making a habit of talking about.
You know, we just go about our normal lives most of the time. So it was good to sort of
hear how it affects them as well. My sister, she has her own problems
with anxiety. It’s good to know that we have an understanding with each other and we can
talk to each other if we need it. Like, me and my sister we’re a really good sort of
team. It’s important to talk to your family about when you’re suffering from mental illness.
Sometimes, you hear a problem shared is a problem halved but sometimes you feel like
a problem shared is a problem multiplied and by talking, you’re just making your family
sad because they can’t help. But, you know, it really is good to talk. After speaking
to my family, I was also interested to find out how my friends reacted to the news about
my mental illness and the fact that I had attempted suicide. I met up with Sam and Duncan,
two of my best mates from school. Obviously, depression is something I had throughout my
time at school. Is this something you were completely unaware of or were there maybe
clues or were you able to guess something was up? I think the shock is when you say
someone’s depressed or someone’s sad. But when you say, “Ben’s got depression” that’s
a different ball game. That goes from “Ben’s a bit down in the dumps” to “Ben’s actually
got something”. This is depression. This is something bigger than just being down. So
what was your reaction when I went public with depression? My first… I remember you
telling me before it went into the paper and I remember thinking, Ben’s come out about
being depressed and it’s like, now it’s a thing where you’ve got to go to Ben and keep
an eye on him and then you don’t want people to know because I thought you’d wanted to
keep it a secret. I thought it was something you were going to overcome yourself and deal
with. And then, it comes out in the paper but then it comes out in the paper and all
these people are like, “I have depression too”. All these people are like, “Ben, can
I get help?”, “Ben, can you do this?” “Ben, what did you do in this case?” and it’s
like, why would Ben keep depression to himself when he can get over it himself or he can
get over it in front of people and he can take people with him? Yeah. That was, I think
that was the aim about you coming out. It wasn’t a case of “I’ve got depression.
I want to tell people”. It was more a case of “I’ve got depression, I’m going to
get better but I want to make all these other people better too. Make some good come out
of it. Yeah. After I went public with depression, did it change the way you saw me at all? I
don’t think so because we got closer. Like, we were starting to get closer and speaking
more I then find out about it I think we stopped getting closer and catching up more. So it
didn’t really make a difference? Not really, no. The type of person I am, I’m always,
whether you’re depressed or whatever was the case I was always going to reach out and speak
to you because of the type of person I am. I wouldn’t say we got any farther apart
but it definitely made our friendship a little different and a little bit more like tight-knit
and more bonded because there was a sort of thing where it was like… You were thinking
about it more. Yeah, you’re thinking, I wonder how Ben is, so it’s not just a case of gonna
send Ben a photo of a cat playing on a guitar. I’m gonna ask Ben how he is. I’m gonna see
how Ben is, as opposed to just messaging Ben. I think it’s good, like, we can speak and
do things and not speak about it like. Yeah. Take your mind off things. But it doesn’t
have to be… You don’t need to, every time you speak, speak about other things and do
other things so… You can’t glaze over it either. You can’t just avoid it because
it’s a part of your life and then it becomes a part of our life as well. It becomes something,
because you want to be, because we’re your friends because we’re with you, we deal with
it together. So, what would you say to people who maybe have depression or some other mental
illness that’s a secret and they’re worried about how their friends would react if they
found out? Your true friends aren’t gonna turn you away. They’re not your true friends.
And then, in which case, you’ll find other new friends will come to the surface and be
the proper friends that you need to get you through and if you go through it alone, that’s
no way to be. You need someone and, okay maybe not your friends to start with maybe go to
a family member or once you’ve got that family member, your friends, your friends will pick
you up. Your friends will be the ones that get you there because you’re friends at
the end of the day are the people you’ve chosen to be with and they’ve chosen to be with you
so they’re gonna pick you up and drag you through it. Do you think opening up made it
easier for you? Em, I think what I found is I had an idea of what depression meant and
how other people would view me if they were to find out and I think after coming out,
what that did for me was shows me that I was wrong and that it really wasn’t that big a
deal as I thought it was. That essentially people don’t really you know it doesn’t change
people’s perception. But you coming out and taking the step has let other people see that
if he can do it, I can do it sort of thing. If he can come out and say it again I’m gonna
hold my hand up and say I’ve got depression as well but at least there’s someone there
that I can be like, speak to. You’ve told me stories like people messaging you and that,
which I think is quite amazing to think of. People that you don’t even know… Yeah,
it’s sort of… it sort of kicks off this chain reaction, this sort of Mexican wave
of people coming out with their, their own stories which is good because then it has
that I think getting more people [Music] As a student at St Andrews University, I was
very keen to find out about support on offer for students with mental health problems.
I discovered there were a variety of different services available and I was really impressed
at how much help students could get. One organisation called Student Minds has a large part to play,
as I discovered when I spoke to Laura Briody. Student Minds is kind of spread across several
different spheres of mental health, like first of all there is the main volunteer group and
what we do is we put on events and collaborate with other societies in order to raise awareness
and education of mental health. So, that can involve ,like collaborations with yoga soc
because yoga is very good for anxiety and for just calming oneself down. Or we put on
stuff that’s far more direct like films, documentaries and talks and things like that.
On the other side we are also a support service. We’re student, student-run so everyone involved
is trained to facilitate these kind, this kind of support. So you’ve got peer support
which is mainly for people who maybe just feel a bit lonely, they feel homesick, they’re
they’re having difficulty communicating with their friends what’s going on with them and
peer support is just in case they don’t want to talk to a therapist or to like sort of
an authority figure. It’s just another student that takes them out for coffee or they go
and see a film or something like that. And it’s just almost like for company as well.
And then there’s the eating disorder support group which is pretty self-explanatory. It’s
a support group for people not just who have diagnosed eating disorders or people who are
recovering, in recovery, have recovered and want to come back. It’s for people who simply
have a difficult relationship with food or with their bodies. It’s something that can
be super difficult to talk about without having, say, like a GP say this is what you have or
a psychiatrist but it’s just sometimes you feeling within yourself saying I’m not really
happy with the relationship I have with food. Each year Student Minds organise a Mental
Health Awareness Week consisting of a number of different events. What we do basically
is we end up collaborating with a lot of societies. It’s partly about raising awareness of just
the, of the group in general and the services in general and then some of them are more
geared to actually addressing mental health. And what we found this year that was really
exciting we actually had people who heard about mental health awareness week and those
societies got in touch with us saying we want to do something for you. And it’s wonderful
when that happens because it absolutely proves this is not something people are ashamed to
talk about. It’s not, there is a need there, a desire there to communicate and to help
and I just, I think that is so wonderful cause it goes against everything our society essentially
teaches us. One of the events planned was a seminar where current students were able
to talk about their experiences of mental health. I’ve actually managed to get three
men involved which sounds like, doesn’t sound like the biggest deal ever but eh, mental
health is still very much the domain of the white female because women are seen as quite
emotional and weak and vulnerable, things we also see of having mental health problems
which first of all not true at all and men aren’t almost allowed to talk about it as
much. And I think that, I think that always almost directly correlates to the highest
suicide rate in young, amongst young men because they’re just not allowed to talk about that
kind of thing. And the fact that three men got in touch with us and said “I want to
talk about this” just me makes me super happy because again once you start bringing
this out into the open it makes it easier for other people to share. What future do
you see for mental health awareness and support in St Andrews? I think it can only really
get better from here. Em, now that people are starting almost to come of the shadows
and it sounds a bit clichéd but this is where they’ve been kept when it comes, being alienated,
being isolated. I think it’s only going to get better from here and more people are getting,
getting involved and I think that’s wonderful. And, the more that people get involved, the
more people will be aware and the cycle just keeps going round and round. I was happy to
be one of the men involved in the seminar Laura organised as I always find it really
useful to talk publicly about my experiences. Generally nowadays, we use sort of a mixture
of medication and therapy to help people get better but we’re still not quite on the ball.
So, I thought I’d lay out my vision for the rest of the 21st century and how I’d like
people to remember us when it came to mental health when they look back. So, I want to
see people get help when they need help and not three or four months down the line because
in that time they only get worse. When people do finally get help I want to see them get
comprehensive therapy rather than just be bummed off on medication because medication
works sometimes but it’s not always the answer. And when people do get therapy it’s just cognitive
behavioural therapy which is good but it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. And finally
I want to see mental health treated with the same respect as physical health because quite
often it’s not. One of the other main support services for students at the University of
St Andrews is the confidential phone-in service Nightline. Nick Farmer told me how the team
are able to help students with their problems. So Nightline is at its heart, it’s a listening
service. We’re open sort of late in the evenings when other services aren’t quite so available
and it’s very simple. We’re available by phone, email or instant messaging and the idea is
if you just want something on your mind if you want chat about something maybe if you
want to know something and you’re having like difficulty finding the information, you can
call us and we’d be very happy to oblige you in whatever way. We have some people phoning
us about perhaps more serious things – I know you’re involved in mental health. We have
people, a lot of people talking to us about, you know, less serious things. You know, we
could have like flatmate trouble, you know, relationships as well as, you know, the other
things. We have some people who just want to know where the next exam is. We’re always
very happy to oblige. We’re happy to just offer a safe space for people to just chat
about what they’re feeling, sort of sound their thoughts about, you know. And hopefully
by the end of the contact, you know, they’ll be feeling a bit better about it. So obviously
there’s quite a few listening services available Breathing Space, Samaritans. What is it that
sets Nightline apart from these services and makes it unique? Okay, so Nightline is, it’s
student-run and it’s sort of it’s, it’s all volunteered and manned entirely by students.
You know, especially if you’re a student phoning in, that you’ll be speaking to someone who
has some awareness and some experience and a lot of empathy, you know, about what is
you want to talk about, about what you’re feeling. This is, of course, not to disparage
any of the other services so like all of the listening services Nightline operates on a
few principles of, you know, em non directivity, confidentiality, anonymity, you know, and
just being empathetic in general. How do you go about selecting the volunteers who talk
on the phones and what sort of training process is there for them? Okay, we have a fairly
rigorous application process. We have a period where we make ourselves known, that we’re
open for applications. We go and talk in lectures and things so people know that it’s happening.
From that point, people sort of write a written application. We take that down, we bring them
all in and we offer interviews to, like, quite a lot of the people who apply and from then
on after the interview stage, we gather up together. We decide how many, you know, offers
we want to send out. Then afterwards comes the training for those people who are successful
and it’s very very rigorous. We just had a training period past and I’m still exhausted
from it frankly. It’s two weekends of nine-to-five practically. We’re extremely thorough. We
go over all our policies, the best way to handle calls. We go over where the law makes
us be aware of certain things. A bit of empathy, I suppose, awareness about certain issues.
What would you say to someone who maybe wanted to use Nightline services but were nervous
about phoning up? Please don’t be. Although I entirely understand that it’s difficult.
We operate on five principles which are just sort of designed to make your call or your
contact your I am as comfortable as possible. We’re absolutely anonymous. You don’t know
who we are so there’s absolutely no chance of phoning us up and seeing us at a lecture
the next day for example because you don’t know who we are. Conversely on anonymity we
don’t know who you are. We don’t ask for any identifying information. Even if for example
you wanted to see a GP we wouldn’t ask for your name to refer you to who your GP is.
We can give you the options and we’d say if you’re from X to Y surname you need to see
them or if you’re from A to B surname, you need to see them. We’re entirely confidential.
We don’t talk about the content of calls, we don’t take logs, we don’t take records.
Nothing like that. Nothing that you say is going to be held in a record, you know. We
are also empathetic and I’m gonna differentiate empathy from sympathy here because sympathy
is almost of sort of, I suppose if you were stuck in a hole sympathy would be looking
down. Empathy would be sort of getting in with you. It’s not looking down on anyone,
it’s just understanding on a very human student service, eh student-to-student basis that,
you know, things could be difficult and we’re cool about that. It’s always good to discover
creative ways of dealing with mental health problems so I was interested to hear about
a social enterprise called How It Felt which uses puppets to help people. Well pretty much
it became a university project when I was in third year at Duncan of Jordanstone and
I had a friend of mine who we both grew up like in the 80s and 90s and we both fell in
love with like Muppets, Jim Henson and Labyrinth and all that kind of stuff. And we were like,
“Oh wouldn’t it be really cool if we could do puppets sometime?” And then we were like,
“Oh yeah maybe we could!” And we were in the Uni, let’s try it. So we ended up doing
a puppet project but we didn’t really know what we wanted to do it about. And then we
ended up making lip puppets of ourselves after we had conversations with each other about
mental health because we were friends. And we were like or what if we used the puppets
with our conversations that we had with the sound that we recorded of these? So then we
made puppets of ourselves, put them in, like, normal situations like in your living room,
your university and blah blah blah and made them, like, talk like they were having the
conversations then and there. Hi everyone. Nice to meet you all. My name is Deborah and
this is Deborah. We run a social enterprise called How It Felt. We are based in Dundee
currently and we’ve been going around schools, community centres, support groups. We usually
do puppet workshops with kids but sometimes we have done it with adults as well so we’re
not limited to age and we mostly focus on mental health. Mental health is something
I’m quite passionate about and it’s something that I want to raise more awareness of and
it just seems to be puppets is a good medium for that. I was lucky enough to take part
in one of Deborah’s workshops and it was great to see how relaxed people where with the puppets
and the positive effect that they had on everyone in the group. Okay, should we have a go? Who
wants to talk to who? It gives people a voice and people can’t really judge a puppet like
you can say whatever you want with them and I think it, like, considering mental health
can sometimes be quite sad to talk about or quite you know expressive. Some people find
that really difficult but maybe through a puppet because you’re using it as a tool you
can communicate better with what you want to say. So, yeah it seems to be through that
they find it a lot easier and also it’s easier to watch a puppet talking about something
that’s necessarily not easy to hear or, you know, say sometimes. Back in St Andrews it’s
recognised that exam time can be one of the most stressful parts of the year. Student
Services have come up with an amazing way to combat this – pet therapy! So we have the
relaxation station that’s going to be running all week and it’s an idea we came up with
in Student Services as a way to give students a chance to come out of the library and away
from revision and take a wee break and have a bit of fun through the week. So all sorts
of things going on. We have a mini zoo going on and all sorts of creatures, some furry
and some not so furry and just a chance for the students to come and have a cuddle and
get up close and personal with some different things and have a bit of a giggle and there’s
a lot of that going on in there which is great. One of my main passions in life is politics
and I’m proud to be a member of the Liberal Democrats. I was delighted to get the chance
to speak to the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie, about his views on
mental health. Why are the Liberal Democrats placing such importance on supporting mental
health sufferers? Liberal Democrats have always argued that those who feel disadvantaged wherever
they are in society deserve a helping hand. You know, we don’t want to just do things
for people. We want to give them the opportunities to thrive themselves and mental health has
been one of those conditions that nobody really talked about. They were a wee bit embarrassed
to say perhaps they had a relative who had a problem or even themselves had a problem
and by just blowing it apart by breaking that taboo then we gave people opportunities. Just
even just to talk about it. In what way can political parties influence the support available
for people with mental health problems? Well we can have a big impact in terms of how public
services run because obviously through that legislature, through the Parliament we can
set the laws. Through budgets we can decide how much money is going to be spent on a particular
area and then through scrutiny and accountability we can hold ministers but also public service
managers and bosses to account for the services that they’re running. So by shining a spotlight
on a particular area we can make a big big difference so the Audit Committee in the parliament,
it’s got an important role to play but so has the First Minister’s Questions and I’ve
raised you know mental health issues at First Minister’s Questions before. In politics you
know everybody can kind of agree to things, you know. You won’t find many politicians
who say that mental health shouldn’t be treated properly but it’s the priority that political
parties give it. How often do they talk about it? How much money are they gonna put into
it? How much time will their politicians spend talking about it proactively rather than being
asked how they’re gonna deal with it proactively because that sets the mood for the decision
makers in the Scottish government but also in public services at large. So that’s why
we talk about it a lot and that’s what politicians from whichever party they’re from can do.
The amount of time we spending on it, the greater focus there is on getting that service
right and that’s why it’s important to do what we’re doing. Is this a problem which
is increasing or is it something which is recognised and discussed more often? I’m not
sure there’s particular evidence that it’s increasing although the stresses and strains
in society has added greater pressures upon individuals. You know, sometimes it’s low
level stress and depression that people can have but also there’s Big Bang traumatic experiences
that some people go through with the army, the military or indeed accidents or events
and their life. So it, the range is huge and that’s why we need to have a service that’s
reflective of the different needs that different people all have because no one person’s condition
will be the same. So I’m not sure if it’s increasing or not but what you are getting
is more people coming forward and expressing themselves because that taboo has been smashed
so I think there is probably a bit of both. I’m sure there’s fluctuations in terms of
the prevalence of a condition but there’s no doubt that because more people are aware
of it, more people are prepared to talk about it that means there’s a greater demand and
the services. But Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service is the formal bit of the NHS,
that is very poor. We’re not getting the quality service that we really need to have and for
instance you know there’s no Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service beds north of the River
Tay. That’s just not acceptable. The service, the waiting time within Tayside is poor, it’s
the worst in Scotland. So many people have to wait well beyond the target waiting time.
That’s unacceptable. So there’s a lot to learn from young people’s services, that kind
of softer support, peer support. But there’s also an awful lot of improvement required
on the formal mental health services provided by the NHS [Music] I met up with Willie again
a few weeks later when he was interviewed by STV news and I was pleased that the report
also mentioned the documentary. And I just felt absolutely terrible. New money and resources
could really help people like Ben Lawrie. A documentary charting his struggle with depression
caught the eye of Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie who says even more should be done. We need
to have a network of centres right across Scotland so every child, every adolescent
can get the support that they need. Not long afterwards I was a contributor to the Kaye
Adams programme, hosted by Louise White on BBC Radio Scotland. Let’s hear from our guest
this morning. We’re joined by Ben Lawrie. He is a student and a mental health activist.
He’s in our Dundee studio. Morning to you, Ben. Hey. Mental ill-health is something that
sometimes people don’t want to talk about, so well done you for agreeing to come on.
Let’s hear your story. Okay, well essentially I’ve suffered from depression for as long
as I can remember but never really sought treatment for it until I was about sixteen,
seventeen. And what I found when I finally went for treatment was that waiting times
are very long. The treatment sometimes isn’t that great. There’s a lot of waiting between
sessions and this is something that’s inspired me to sort of go on and campaign for improved
mental health services. Throughout my time at St Andrews, I’ve always been very impressed
by the support on offer to students, particularly through Student Services. Mark Ford explains
the role that this organisation plays at the University. So student services are trying
to help students reach their full potential while they’re at University and we realise
that coming to higher education, being a student is a different experience for different people.
And we try and provide support and guidance for students who need it. Some students don’t
need any contact with Student Services. For some students, they need just a little bit
of support and advice to get them over particular hurdles or things that they’re facing. Most
of the students who contact Student Services will see one of the support advising team
first of all. Some of the terms we used to describe them are common sense and compassion.
Support advisors provide advice and guidance and that can be absolutely anything the students
can come and speak to them about. What we’re trying to do is to build a student body that’s
resilient, that know how to access self-help material and then provide support for those
who need it. What’s it like being in a supporting role for people with mental illness? Sometimes
mental health can be viewed as a negative thing and actually the World Health organisation
define mental health as helping every individual to realise their own potential to cope with
normal stresses and strains of life and an important part of that is is well-being and
resilience too. And one of the opportunities that we have is to try and signpost students
to material that will really help them to be able to help them over a hump and to empower
them as well you know in being able to take steps to look after their own mental health
and well-being. We recognise that there are students who come to University who need extra
support and then for us it’s being able to put that into place. So for me personally
it’s incredibly rewarding. It’s an exciting group of people to work with and it’s a different
group of people sometimes every year from different backgrounds and different cultures
on different courses. I learn a huge amount from speaking with students and interacting
with students and I think you know, in a student age group there’s a huge potential to people
to help and support and to be able to affect change you know, real lasting change sometimes
in terms of mental health and general health. What more can universities be doing to support
students with mental illnesses? So, I think universities need to promote mental health
and and well-being and that I think ideally involves student engagement as well as getting
students on board with the healthy messages. Also health promotion campaigns, getting the
message out to students and involving students in that. I think as much as we possibly can
do to try and prevent circumstances that are detrimental to students’ mental health as
well and then to provide the support through Student Services here but to link in with
local health care as well. So we work very closely with the the local GPs, with the National
Health Service so trying to tie all that together so that students can access the help and support
they need when they need it and the university has a very definite role within the NHS you
know as a separate organisation but working in partnership with them. Obviously depression
and anxiety don’t just affect students so I was interested to hear from Kevin Ditcham
above the work he does for NHS Scotland to help sufferers. So ASIST is available for
anyone in the community above the age of 16. So in every kind of local authority area there’s
someone em that kind of takes the lead in terms of organising training under the Choose
Life initiative. So Choose Life is Scotland’s em strategy and action plan to prevent suicide.
So, yes so there’s people in every local authority area that someone can get in touch with to
book on to training and em and anyone over the age of 16 can take part. Normally courses
are well publicised in things. It looks at people’s attitudes and beliefs around suicide
and kind of getting people to open up about their experiences and their kind of, their
own personal experiences with suicide and I suppose the attitudes and beliefs that those
have shaped em and then kind of getting people to start looking at what we call a pathway
for assisting life. And that’s basically the steps that someone can take to meet the needs
of someone at risk of suicide in terms of keeping them safe and then it teaches people
to put a safe plan in place to make sure that that person’s immediate safety is increased
to prevent suicide. In Scotland we’re double the rate of suicides in the rest of the UK
and we know that the male suicide rate is, is much greater than that for females. I don’t
know, I don’t think it’s ever been proven but we think it’s around the sort of macho
kind of figure that men play or feel that they have to play and therefore it’s not okay
to talk about feelings so we’re really trying to sort of break down those barriers and get
men to talk and discuss with their peers and whoever, friends, family colleagues that it’s
okay to talk about mental health and in turn that would, em play a great role in preventing
suicides. So we have seen a fall and suicide rates in Scotland which is, can only be a
good thing but I think in local communities on the ground the stigma and taboo around
suicide still persists and there’s still a lot of issues around people talking openly
and honestly about suicide or just knowing that it’s okay to talk about suicide and
that it’s not gonna put the thought into someone’s head if they’re not thinking of
suicide and you know, just that open and direct and honest talk about suicide is the best
way to prevent it. And I suppose mental health as well open and direct and honest talk about
mental health in general is the best way to to promote good mental health and for people
to leave mentally healthy lives. As part of my campaign to raise awareness of mental health
issues and to work towards improving provision for treatment in Scotland, I decided to stand
for the local council elections in May 2016. Willie Rennie and a team of volunteers assisted
me with door-to-door campaigning, which was a huge help as this is something I find quite
stressful. I’m pleased to say it was successful, though as I was elected to serve on Angus
Council and I have been combining my councillor duties and my studies ever since. So, that’s
a look at my life over the last eighteen months or so. It’s amazing how much has changed
in such a short period of time and although I still suffer from anxiety and depression,
I feel that I’m in a far more positive place now than I was when I tried to take my life.
It’s been a bit of an eye-opener for me, discussing my condition with family and friends
because I suppose, when I was at my lowest point, I was focusing more on my own feelings
rather than those of others around me so it’s been interesting to find out more about their
thoughts on my condition. One thing’s for sure – I wouldn’t have been able to make
the progress I have without their love and support. I still have stressful times in my
life, juggling my university course with my council duties and with final exams not that
far away, I’m well aware of the pressures that lie ahead. However, I feel better equipped
to face these challenges, especially after a recent visit to the Doctor. In the past,
my attempts at getting professional help haven’t been particularly positive but I have now
been prescribed medication and I finally feel that I’m getting the medical support I need.
Mental health features frequently in the news headlines these days and although we’re
making progress, there is still a stigma which needs to be tackled. I’m proud that through
my work with the Liberal Democrats and as a Councillor, I’m doing my bit to raise
awareness of the issues and campaigning for increased support for sufferers. I hope that
this film will play a part in that and people with mental health problems should realise
they are not alone and that lots of different types of help are out there. It’s easy to
feel isolated but it’s important to discuss feelings with others and to seek out help
before things become overwhelming. I hope you’ve found it interesting to hear about
my experiences and that if you’ve been affected in the ways I have, you have a bit more information
about where to go for help. Thanks for watching.

About the author


  1. As a patient under Arbroath's Gowanlea Community Mental Health Team for the past five years, I can appreciate many of the topics in this excellent documentary and hopefully it will help many people.

  2. As Ben's dad, I couldn't be any more proud than I already am. He is an ambassador for mental health and I hope that this documentary helps others who may find themselves in the same place he has been. Inspirational son – keep up the sterling work.

  3. It's hard to feel depressed..I'm struggling about it so much up until now..I don't know who will listen to me even from my family,God pls. help me

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