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Hayley Cook and Rob Eamey sat at a table at Outside In Food Court Portsmouth
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A conversation with Rob Eamey

5th December 2023
Hayley Cook and Rob Eamey sat at a table at Outside In Food Court Portsmouth

Rob Eamey talks to Hayley Cook about his mental health journey and the stigma many men feel about opening up and talking about their mental health struggles. Rob is a Peer and Wellbeing Team Lead at Solent Mind.

Content warning – this video contains discussion about suicide.

Tell me about when you first realised you were struggling with mental health?

I think looking back, I was probably struggling with my mental health from quite an early age.

I had physical health issues, epilepsy, which really restricted my life, my ability to study, go to uni, and work.

But it was it actually wasn’t until I’d supported a partner through very serious mental health issues and unfortunately lost them to suicide, that I actually started reflecting that, you know, actually there’s something going on here.

So it was probably around about 2010, 2011, I started…I sat down and thought to myself actually I think there’s some serious issues with depression and anxiety, but unfortunately, I did kind of push that all down for a number of years and it took me a lot longer to actually really come to terms and accept that.

What sort of things put you off from reaching out for help?

I think it was largely the stigma.

I was just, yeah, really worried about appearing weak, admitting that I was struggling.

I think for men, there’s a lot a lot of us men really face this kind of in-built stigma that we impose on ourselves around traditional ideals about what it means to be a man, which means you can’t be weak, you can’t ask for help.

Also for me, I think I didn’t want to accept there was yet another thing going on, on top of my physical health difficulties.

And what happened when you did reach out?

It took me getting to a crisis point myself, unfortunately.

I had been struggling to maintain jobs because of the ongoing difficulties with my depression and anxiety, and I lost the job unexpectedly.

And that triggered a crisis point and suicide attempt.

Obviously, very pleased to say it was unsuccessful. I’m still here.

I reached out to my family first. I reached out to my sister who came up and picked me up and then I spoke to the GP very quickly, spoke to crisis services.

When I did start talking to people about it. It was almost like a big weight was lifted. I no longer had to pretend and keep everything kind of inside. It wasn’t that all my struggles disappeared. I was still to me it was a work in progress.

But yeah, it was definitely a massive relief. A very kind of freeing experience and, you know, I’m very glad that I took that step.

Do you wish you’d reached out sooner?

I do.

I do wonder what kind of difference it would have made to my life now. Whether I wouldn’t had to have missed so much time out of work, you know, working on myself, get myself healthy.

So, yeah, I do honestly wish I’d reached out a lot quicker.

Even at the time, I knew about the services that were available in the local areas, such as Talking Change, the local talking therapies. But I didn’t reach out.

But for anyone in my position, I think I would say try not to be too hard on yourself.

It’s very easy to look back and say, oh, in hindsight, I should have done this.

But for everyone, there does have to be a right time to reach out for help.

Actually, asking for help is probably the hardest step.

How do you deal with your mental health now?

So I still have my good days, my bad days.

For me, various coping techniques include exercise, trying to eat healthily, music.

I really would say, you know, find things that are a positive, you know, outlets, you know, things that relieve stress. It’s different for everyone.

I think the one most important thing for me has been learning to feel free to talk about my mental health and specifically accessing peer support. So having people in my life that I know have had similar experiences will have that kind of understanding of what it’s like to live with ill mental health.

So yeah, identifying those people in your life who can give you that safe space, whether it’s friends, colleagues, my partner’s a massive support to me.

So yeah, it’s feeling free to talk openly and honestly about at the end of the day, what is just another health issue.

You support a lot of people through your work at Solent Mind, so just tell us a little bit about that?

It’s really rewarding for me, personally, to be able to use my lived experience to support our clients and to support the staff and the staff that I manage at our Positive Minds wellbeing centre.

Our service users really do value just being able to speak to people who have lived through something similar.

It’s not for everyone and it’s not for everyone who’s lived with mental health to go into peer support.

But it’s a fantastic way to give back to the community.

A large part for me, has always been, I want to give back to the services that have helped me and helped my friends and my family when they’ve been struggling.

What advice would you give to somebody who’s struggling with their mental health and they’re not sure where to go?

I’d like to encourage them and just kind of reassure that there are people out there who are supportive, understanding more people than we realise live with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia.

You never know what’s going on.

And it is honestly, it’s just like any other health issue.

I take medication to control my epilepsy and I feel absolutely no shame about that. Why should we feel shame about taking medication to help support our mental health or accessing talking therapies?

The support is out there and I think a lot of time people don’t realise just how much support we have.

So really, especially if you’re in the Portsmouth area, please reach out.

There’s always going to be someone there who’s wanting to help you and just start those conversations.

You never know if you start a conversation what you might hear back.