‘You have to speak out, get help and not be hard on yourself’
Post-natal depression is a common problem for new mothers, but a baby’s arrival can also prove difficult for some men. Angus Mackay works as football development officer for the GFA and has signed up to be a Guernsey Mind Team Talk Ambassador following his own brush with mental health issues. He talks to Jill Chadwick about how a series of life events heralded the beginning of severe depression – and how he feels able to speak out and help others...
IN MAY 2015 Angus became a father for the first time and he admits he had not been prepared for how it would change his life and how he viewed himself.
‘Everything changed for us and I found the broken sleep patterns difficult. You do hear a lot about women experiencing postnatal depression but I know through my own experience that for some men it can be a problem too. Men just tend not to talk about it.
‘It was not just becoming a father that affected my mental health. I was also badly affected by the death of Mike Thomas, Guernsey FC physio, who passed away on 21 May 2015. We were very close and I did not cope well with this. Mike was my roommate on away trips and he had helped me recover from numerous injuries, so there really was a sense that something was missing and I found this hard to deal with.’
Angus struggled with low moods and felt increasingly anxious and depressed.
‘Also, in the summer of 2015 I started to take on new responsibilities at work and again, I did not cope well with this, which was a contributing factor to my mental health issues. This was at no fault of my employer; it was more a case that I did not have an understanding of anxiety and depression, what the symptoms were and how to deal with them. I didn’t really know what was happening to me until the symptoms started to get quite bad.’
‘I suppose things got really bad by October of 2015 when I began to have suicidal thoughts. I realised then that I had to do something about it, so I contacted the Professional Footballers’ Association. I knew they would be receptive due to the experience of Clarke Carlisle, who put the spotlight on mental health after speaking out about his mental health issues.’
Angus says he was instantly offered counselling by the PFA and he is very grateful for how quick and effective they were once he got in touch with them.
‘They have a whole wellbeing department dedicated to helping players. I emailed them and they came back offering a telephone counselling option or they said they would put me in touch with a locally based therapist. I opted for the therapist.’
Angus says that looking back, this was not the best t hing for him at that time. ‘It didn’t really suit me and eventually I was offered cognitive behaviour therapy [CBT], which I did find very useful. It suited me so much better as it didn’t focus on how you were feeling or the past. It helps you see what your depression is and gives you tasks to focus on between each appointment. It was all outcome-focused and this suited me so much better. I would say that for me CBT has been brilliant.’
Angus explains that while he was resistant to taking medication, he did eventually agree to be prescribed anti-depressants.
‘My GP advised me that I should take them but I resisted for quite a while. I had not wanted to go to see the doctor for my depression as I didn’t want this to appear on my medical records. It’s all part of the stigma I felt was attached to mental health.
‘I finally started taking medication and, though I was warned it would take a couple of weeks to kick in, I felt an instant boost and a feeling of euphoria before settling down again.
‘I had to watch my diet and found that drinking too much caffeine did mimic the physical feelings of anxiety.’
Bit by bit people did start talking to Angus about his problems and it helped him to be able to open up about his mental health.
‘I found that it helped to be able to be open and talk to people about how I had been feeling.’
He pays tribute to Tony Vance, the coach and the players at GFC who supported him.
‘People had noticed that I was not well and many players and people in local football have offered me support. High-profile people in football such as Gary Speed taking his life has increased awareness of mental health problems in sportsmen. I had thought that I was alone in how I felt but I realised that mental health can affect so many people like me.’
Angus decided that he would speak to those around him at work and in his squad and it has led to him being approached by other men who are struggling with mental health issues.
‘I also felt it important to support charities like Guernsey Mind who are doing so much to raise awareness too. I had always felt like I was alone in how I was feeling but I realised that a lot of people experience problems like mine.’
Angus decided to create a WhatsApp group to raise awareness and to be open about his depression and anxiety.
He has kept abreast of what Guernsey Mind has been doing to raise awareness and he decided to become one of their Team Talk sport mental health champions.
‘I just said that I had been experiencing stress, anxiety and depression, which may explain if people noticed that I was behaving differently. The response was overwhelming.’
He says that other men in his peer group have felt able to discuss their concerns with him, which has been another positive thing to come out of his opening up about his own issues.
‘It’s the most important thing. You have to speak out, get help and not be hard on yourself. There is support out there but you have to be honest and say that you need it.’