Let's talk about mens mental health, please.

In May 2018 I wrote this blog post for The Guide Liverpool - Today on #InternationalMensDay I want to repost this on my own website. Feel free to read, share but most of all, feel free to talk about it.

Recently I shared a Facebook status about where my head was at only 3 years ago. I was lonely, depressed, my head simply didn’t work. I had felt a mess for 2 years since the birth of my son, (who I love more than anything on this planet) I fell into what many people don’t realise exists, it’s called paternal depression (or male Post Natal Depression). I became a stay at home Dad and not long later I left my religion, which was a huge part of my upbringing. I lost a lot of friends in the process, I had to get counselling via our NHS and then in January 2015 I split up with my wife for the first time. I didn’t have anywhere to go so I made the sad trip into the municipal buildings on Dale street and registered homeless to get emergency housing. I didn’t get it. I missed the phone call and I was to spend 3 days staying in the spare room of my newlywed friends.

I began coping with the pressures by launching head first into work not long after, working 4 jobs at the same time. But little did I know, a year later I would hit rock bottom again and lose my jobs and the cycle of life continued. It happens to all of us, whether we want it to or not. Life happens and we are forced to cope. I was fortunate enough to have friends and family around me to help. Nobody could tell I was broken, but for 4 years I spent dipping in and out of depression with less than a hand full of people being aware.

For many years now, social media has been making us believe we have hundreds or even thousands of friends. But this isn’t the case, is it? For men, roughly 12 percent over the age of 18 don’t have a close friend they would confess a serious life problem to. This is a major problem, isn’t it?

Eating disorders, dieting and extreme exercising are as much of a problem for UK secondary school boys as for girls, suggests a survey. Of more than 1,000 eight- to 18-year-old boys polled, 55% would consider changing their diet to look better. And 23% said they believed there was a perfect male body. “Boys are increasingly worried about their appearance,” said Karen Fraser, of the Credos advertising industry think tank, which conducted the survey.Most of the boys polled saw eating disorders (56%) as an issue for both boys and girls.

Soon after your mid-20s, your social circle shrinks, according to a recent study by scientists from Finland and Oxford University. The teams analysed data from 3 million mobile phone users to identify the frequency and patterns of whom they contacted and when, as well as overall activity within their networks. Men and women were found to be socially active, making plenty of friends and social contacts until the age of 25, after which point they started losing them rapidly. Women losing them at an initially faster rate than men. The average 25-year-old woman contacts about 17.5 people per month, while a man contacts 19 people.

Here is the thing – This isn’t just the facts of life. This is a real problem. 

A YouGov poll carried out by The Movember Foundation found that 12 percent of men over the age of 18 don’t have a close friend they would discuss a serious life problem with. That’s two and a half million men across Britain. Over a quarter of men said they got in touch with their mates less than once a month, and 9 percent said they don’t remember the last time they made contact with their friends. Research by the World Health Organisation has shown that a lack of close friends has a significant impact on men’s health in the long term, leaving men at risk of depression, anxiety and suicide.

“Many men we’ve spoken to don’t actually realise how shallow their relationships have become until they face a significant challenge, such as bereavement, breakdown of a relationship, fatherhood or loss of employment – and yet that is of course when good friends are needed most.” – Sarah Coghlan, head of Movember UK.

This post has taken a male centred perspective, hasn’t it? Make no mistake about it, when it comes to mental health issues – nature seems to be extremely sexist. Maybe due to society’s expectations of masculinity – Men are suffering. Just over three out of four suicides (76%) are by men and suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 35 (ONS) While 12.5% of men in the UK are suffering from one of the common mental health disorders. Men are also nearly three times more likely than women to become alcohol dependent (8.7% of men are alcohol dependent compared to 3.3% of women – Health and Social Care Information Centre).

So here is an important and vital question – What are you doing to help your friends?

More often than not, nobody is looking for the warning signs. The person who is smiling, laughing and socialising to the outside world can also be dying inside. The person who is the butt of the jokes may seem to have thick skin, but inside they may be wounded by the harsh words and criticism they are getting. People see life through Facebook and assume that your highlights are the life you lead. It’s time we all stop – We need to start being friends again and not just Facebook acquaintances.

Now we have looked at the statistics and the facts, how about we take a different approach now. How about thinking about your male friends who are going through tough or difficult times and checking in on them? It is what I needed and it is what my friends and your friends need too.

In such a social society, let’s not forget to love and care for one another – and most of all, let us not forget to look after ourselves and our mental health.


TALK LIVERPOOL

A free NHS service offering quick and easy access to talking therapies, practical support, and employment advice. Aims to help people who have common mental health problems such as feeling stressed, feeling low in mood (depressed) or very nervous (anxiety). Service is available through GPs in Liverpool, a range of voluntary sector organisations and by self-referral either online (www.talkliverpool.nhs.uk) or by phone (0151 228 2300).

CHASING THE STIGMA

Set up by Liverpool comedian Jake Mills, from Croxteth Park, who was suffering from depression in 2013 and tried to take his own life.

Since then he’s turned his life around and is devoting his time to helping others dealing with depression.

Website (www.chasingthestigma.co.uk) includes a Hub of Hope database of grassroots organisations working to tackle mental health issues.

Samaritans

Free helpline anyone who needs to talk about tough times can ring. You can call, email, text, write or talk to trained volunteers face-to-face. Calling Samaritans is free of charge from a landline or mobile. The number is 116 123. For more information go towww.samaritans.org

CALM

CALM, the campaign against living miserably, is a charity dedicated to preventing male suicide, the biggest single killer of men aged 20 – 45 in the UK.

Offers support to men in the UK, of any age, who are down or in crisis via a helpline (0800 585858) and website (www.thecalmzone.net) .

SANE

Aims to improve quality of life for anyone affected by mental illness. There’s a helpline available on 0300 304 7000 from 6pm – 11pm every evening. There’s also an online support forum at www.sane.org.uk/what_we_do/support/supportforum

The art of thinking too much and too little

Recently, I discovered a lump on my testicle. (Yeah, interesting start to a blog, I know) I went to my local GP and I had never met her before. I said my complaint and she asked some details, we both knew the physical exam was coming.

In a flurry of awkwardness before she asked me to get my bollocks out, she went through my medical records listing previous complaints I have come in with. Suddenly she shouts “hold on! You’re not disabled!” I was taken back by the comment, with no idea as to what she was referring to. It turns out it was a note on my file from when I was age 13.

At age 13 I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), I was also at the time professionally diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia - diagnoses that I have either grown out of or I was completely misdiagnosed.

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As a child I was determined to not be thought of as “special” in school and subsequently when I was home educated too. Socially I wanted nobody to know that I had been diagnosed with anything, I wanted to appear normal like everyone else. I grew up, I played football and while some would argue I was shite, I won plenty of trophies and eventually trained with multiple semi-professional teams before succumbing to alcohol and KFC - ending my illustrious career.

As for my dyslexia, I have been a professional writer for many years now. While spell check is used often – I get by. You can understand me now, right?

The ADD on the other hand has come back to haunt me time and time again, unknown to me. I had forgotten about it until someone close to me sent me a link to an article which explained how it affects adults and I laid in my bed crying, feeling helpless and powerless to a diagnosis I have no control over, that I had forgotten about until 2017.

Powerless, it occasionally it pops up to fuck up elements of my life. If like it or not.

Attention Deficit Disorder is a term used for people who have excessive difficulties with concentration but without the presence of other symptoms like impulsiveness or hyperactivity, so while someone with ADHD may be easier to spot, someone like myself can sit in a room and show no signs of the fact that I have a problem. These are the symptoms:

  • making careless mistakes

  • having a short attention span and being easily distracted

  • appearing forgetful or losing things

  • being unable to stick to tasks that are tedious or time-consuming

  • constantly changing activity or task

  • having difficulty organising tasks

  • extreme impatience

  • taking risks in activities, often with little or no regard for personal safety

  • inability to deal with stress

  • forgetfulness

They also list that conditions that can be closely linked to ADD are Anxiety and Depression.

Why am I writing a blog dedicated to this? Well, many people suffer with this condition and are expected to get on with life, and we all do. In fact, Michael Phelps, Justin Timberlake, Will.i.am, Adam Levine, Justin Bieber, Richard Branson, Ryan Gosling and many more major name celebrities suffer with this problem and are doing quite well.

Other people have made me out to be weak and less capable due to having ADD and occasional spells of depression. I have always been someone who has spoken openly and honestly about my depression, but now I feel the need to speak about what I now consider to be the root cause, regardless of judgement, but in the hope of it helping others.

Having ADD has hindered my life, there is no doubt about it.

My lack of focus has caused me not to listen and lose organisation.

My lack of attention has led me to neglect close friends and family because I have focused on other things or the task directly ahead of me and not on them, when I should have been with them.

My main worry is for my son, who is showing signs of being just like his Daddy. The more I know about ADD and accept it, the more I can help him if it does happen to develop in his little life.

All seems rather negative doesn’t it? Truth be told, If it wasn’t for ADD I wouldn’t be where I am today. I would be stuck in one of the many dead end jobs that I felt no passion in. If there is one thing that people with ADD/ADHD know how to be - it is passionate!

Our passions lead us to over think and now what I consider to be my superpower - it causes us to hyperfocus.

If I am reading a book, watching a film or listening to music. I am DOING that task. Nothing else.

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I was aware of the music of The Beatles growing up, but my parents were never major fans. But one day, aged 20, I listened to a John Lennon song “Oh Yoko” and decided to download Lennon’s entire catalogue of music. Seven years later and the music of his band has paid for my sons nursery, football, martial arts, my car, my rent and everything in my life. I hyperfocused and learnt everything about The Beatles in the space of a few years. I fell in love with Liverpool as a city and our history and applied my focus to learn about our history. Tourism has become my passion.

Again, while I am shite - I learned 10 songs on the guitar without any lessons in just 6 weeks in 2016, all due to hyperfocus.

My passions now drive me and I have learnt to always follow my passion and do what my mind wants me to do - That is what I have found is the key to success for someone with ADD.

Every year of my life that passes I wonder what is coming next and how I can continue to shift my focus onto my next goal. In 2018 I have been shortlisted for five awards, got myself a job working for a company that I love and I have set up two companies. ADD doesn’t hinder me professionally. I am proud of where I am despite ADD.

2019 will be a testing year, I will be doing it all with ADD. While I am aware that it has had a negative impact on some parts my life, I am choosing to view it as a positive.

PS: My testicle is completely fine, by the way.

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Our 60th Anniversary release of In Spite of all the Danger

Imagine, it’s 12th July, five lads from Liverpool have saved up money to make a record. They want to record a Buddy Holly song; "That’ll be the day." They also want to record a B side to the record, a song that would go down in history. At the time they were blissfully unaware of what was to come in the following ten years; the world hadn’t seen anything like it yet. The lads were about to record what would later be called “the most expensive record in existence” a song called, "In Spite of all the Danger."

John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Colin Hanton and John “Duff” Lowe walked into Percy Phillips studio at number 38 Kensington and paid 17 shillings and 6 pence for a 78RPM shellac disc featuring sound of the band who would later become The Beatles, at this point, the sound that will live on forever had never been recorded before.

“It says on the label that it was me and George but I think it was actually written by me, and George played the guitar solo! We were mates and nobody was into copyrights and publishing, nobody understood – we actually used to think when we came down to London that songs belonged to everyone. I've said this a few times but it's true, we really thought they just were in the air, and that you couldn't actually own one. So you can imagine the publishers saw us coming! 'Welcome boys, sit down. That's what you think, is it?' So that's what we used to do in those days – and because George did the solo we figured that he 'wrote' the solo.”
Paul McCartney - The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

This record was unique, the only ever McCartney-Harrison composition ever recorded. The sound quality these days is considered poor, but the melody is still intact and you can hear the quality of their young voices. You can hear the fantastic guitar solo of George Harrison, the stomp on the pedal from Colin, the harmonies of McCartney and the strong vocals of a seventeen year old John Lennon.

John Lennon was imitating his idol, Elvis Presley, he was completely unaware that he would be grieving the death of his mother three days after this recording was made. The song Is a close imitation of Elvis’ classic ‘trying to get to you.’

“It was my song. It's very similar to an Elvis song. It's me doing an Elvis, but I'm a bit loathe to say which! I know which one! It was one that I'd heard at scout camp when I was younger and I'd loved it. And when I came to write the first couple of songs at the age of about 14 that was one of them.”
Paul McCartney - The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Here we are 60 years later, still talking about what these lads did all these years ago. Years later after John “Duff” Lowe would keep hold of this record for twenty three years, it would eventually be bought by Paul McCartney and he would now own it as a prize possession.

For myself, I would become aware that as a city, Liverpool wasn’t doing anything of particular significance to mark the 60th anniversary of the first recording our greatest sons made. In March (2018) I would contact the fantastic Marc Kenny, who has recently reached number one with releases in Egypt and Bulgaria. I told Marc the idea, to replicate the release, but modern and crisp and with us as local lads doing the vocals. We fell in love with the idea and decided we would do it. We discussed how it would sound, how we would release it. We eventually started discussing who else could help us.

A year ago I watched the Quarrymen perform at the 60th Anniversary of the Woolton Village Fete where John and Paul first met. I remembered watching the men on stage, still passionate and enthusiastic about performing, all with smiles on their faces, reminiscent of the past. I told Marc about how I had met Colin through a mutual friend and I could contact him and ask him to be involved. This led us to a place I never thought I would end up – In a legal debate with Sir Paul McCartney, Colin Hanton and John Lowe.

John “Duff” Lowe would sell the prestigious record and would sign documents which forbidden the reproduction of it, understandably. For Duff to be involved with it was out of the question, Colin was still keen and called me up courteously to explain the situation and the lengthy chats he had with Duff about it. Colin enthusiastic and kindly dedicated time and effort into trying to help us, but without Sir Paul McCartney’s permission, Colin couldn’t be on the record either.

It left myself, Marc, Dan and Barney recording this classic, but with the well wishes of the lovely gentlemen that went before us. We sincerely hope that we have done this record justice, it is a beautiful song, that deserves to be reproduced, sang along to and performed. We hope this anniversary serves to remind us of how much of a true classic it is.

 

“When we got the record, the agreement was that we would have it for a week each. John had it a week and passed it on to me. I had it for a week and passed it on to George, who had it for a week. Then Colin had it for a week and passed it to Duff Lowe – who kept it for 23 years.” - Paul McCartney, Anthology