How a traumatic injury led to a downward spiral in my mental health – and the route back
A view from Chris Hayward

How a traumatic injury led to a downward spiral in my mental health – and the route back

Chris Hayward went on his own mental-health journey following a serious accident. Now a passionate advocate for mental health, Chris wants men across the industry to open up about their wellbeing.

This article discusses suicide.

It’s Men’s Health Week this week, and this year’s theme focuses on mental health post Covid. I understand why people would struggle after the year or so we’ve just had. It has been a year of uncertainty and trauma. 

I know all about the mental-health issues that can follow a trauma. I had a freak accident a few years ago where I fell down a hole and shattered my knees. It was life-changing. I couldn’t play sport or go to gigs, both passions of mine, and the pain was unbelievable. I pushed myself to recover physically, but mentally was another story.

I underestimated just how much the accident would affect my emotional health. 

It took only a few weeks for me to reach rock bottom. The physical pain and isolation caused by not being able to move about, play sports or see my friends, really got to me. I started to feel tired all the time and lost interest in my hobbies. Yet I pushed through for a few months, getting back on my feet, going to work when I could, putting a brave face on the inner torment I was feeling. I started thinking about how useless I was, all the time. It was exhausting and all-consuming. I couldn’t see a way out until one day, when I found myself walking up and down Tottenham Court Road, thinking about suicide.

I’d been at the top of my game. Now, I needed to escape. I ran away. I ran to a place of safety – Liverpool, my home city. I ended up in a pub, staring into a pint, alone, for hours. It was there that the police found me – my wife had called them when I’d failed to return home, and they tracked me down, thanks to my credit card entries. They were brilliant, and understood straight away that I was unwell. It was then that the help kicked in for me.

Two things stand out for me in terms of my road to recovery. First, the most fantastic GP who took one look at me and said to my wife that I needed to go to the Priory straightaway. I was there within 24 hours. Then there was cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which really helped me. I also was lucky to have amazing support from my family and friends. With time, effort and self-compassion, I eventually got to a good place.

I’m so much better now, but it’s an ongoing journey.

These days, I know the signs to watch out for. When I start to experience extreme tiredness, it’s time to catch myself and give myself the support I need, whether that’s doing something for myself or reaching out to my family.

Whatever you’ve been through, you must not be afraid to get support for your mental health. And get that support as early as you can. If you start to feel tired, if you lose interest in your hobbies, if you start to withdraw from normal life – these are often clues that your mental health needs some urgent care and attention. The people at Nabs are great, you can give their Advice Line a call and they’ll guide you towards the help that you need.

Don’t be afraid to be kind to yourself. I’ve found that it’s very typical in our industry for men to be competitive. Anything we can’t do is a sign of failure. That doesn’t help our mental health. Stop being self-critical – that’s what I’ve learned to do.

Leaders in our industry have a job to do here. We need to give our people permission to look after themselves. We’ve got to look after ourselves too, and show really clearly how we’re doing that. As far as I’m concerned, getting support for your mental health is as necessary and as natural as getting help for any physical condition. Ignore your mental health for long enough, and you won’t be able to carry on. I know, because I was there.

Things have moved on since I started my mental-health journey. There’s more knowledge around the subject, and more conversations in our industry about how we can better support ourselves and our teams. But there’s still a lot to do. Many men are still worried about speaking openly about their mental-health challenges. I sense it sometimes when a friend or colleague asks me questions about my wellbeing. I know that really they’re asking for themselves. 

Let’s create a culture where we can really bring this stuff out into the open, without fear of judgment. Talking about mental health saved me, and continues to save me.

Chris Hayward is an independent consultant, media markets, at St Domingo Consultancy

Nabs helps advertising and media professionals of all backgrounds with their emotional and mental health – visit www.nabs.org.uk for support

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org

Picture: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

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