During the summer of 2016, Davey Shields found himself unemployed, financially pressured and struggling to cope with his mental health.

After a total of three attempts to end his life and a one-and-a-half year wait to see a psychiatrist, Davey moved from Brighton to Glasgow. Last month he called me from a coffee shop in the Scottish city to share his story of going from unemployment turmoil to inspiring others to open up about their mental health.

“I was stopped from killing myself by sheer luck,” explains Davey. “My housemate was meant to be out, but unexpectedly turned up.” Davey’s mental health began to deteriorate after receiving a diagnosis of depression back in 2009. He applied for a 999 call-handler role, had been open about his mental health with his boss, but with many calls echoing some of his own mental health struggles, he found it increasingly hard to carry out his duties. He describes how he became anxious of making mistakes amongst the influx of 999 calls coming in from members of the public, worrying that his slip-ups would be ‘dangerous’.

Davey went to see his GP, but turned down a sick note through fear of being sacked. It was only when he shared his anxieties in a written reflection at the end of particularly challenging day, that Davey’s boss called him in to discuss his mental health.

“There was definitely a loss of perspective on the situation,” recalls Davey as he thinks back to the day his boss asked him to either get back to answering 999 calls or quit. He describes “aspects of poor education about how to support people living with mental health conditions” amongst senior staff, yet acknowledges the growing pressures being faced by emergency services across the country.

He says his initial feeling after quitting his role in Brighton was “a sense of relief”, but as somebody who had always worked, this was short-lived. The financial pressures of unemployment quickly pressed down on him. Although he was claiming Universal Credit, Davey describes how this wasn’t sufficient to help support him in the expensive seaside town. The final blow came when he secured a zero hour contract job, but was unable to work because of his worsening mental health.

Having lost his flat, Davey ping-ponged between his parents’ home in Norwich and his friends’ sofas and floors in Brighton, London and Glasgow. Joining a waiting list to see a psychiatrist – that would eventually take 18 months – he also signed-up to an NHS mental health course in Brighton.

Following another suicide attempt and an incident where he describes “going missing for hours in London” only to end up in Norwich, when he should have been in Brighton, Davey finally saw a psychiatrist. His medication dose was adjusted, which Davey says gave him a double-edged sword of more energy and fewer hours of sleep.

During the course of his battle with mental health and unemployment, Davey came up with the idea for MenTalkHealth, a podcast that would eventually inspire others and himself to speak more openly about these issues. “I was lying there one night,” says Davey. “That’s when this grand plan came to me.” He teamed up with his two friends, Eli and Damian, releasing the first episode last January. “Eli learned a lot about me that she didn’t know and it was beneficial for me to get together for an honest conversation about my mental health.”

Davey recalls being out on the scene in Brighton when a guy approached him to say how MenTalkHealth had helped him: “I think it’s changed the way people talk about mental health, well in Brighton anyway. People are aware of it and that’s a great thing.”

Now living in Glasgow, Davey returns to Brighton on a once-monthly basis to continue recording the podcast. He signs on at the Job Centre and has been able to secure a zero hour contract job. “I think if anywhere needs more mental health awareness it should be at the Job Centre,” argues Davey.

Although he says that most people have understood, he recalls some unpleasant phone conversations from the Job Centre that have left him feeling worse than before. He also describes a lack of accessible mental health support available to those signing on.

“My state of mind is better, because I don’t have the financial struggles that I was having in Brighton,” says Davey towards the end of our telephone conversation. He also shares that he is due to have his first appointment with a mental health nurse next week. “I was told that mental health services up in Glasgow are better than they are in England, so I guess I’m just waiting to find that out now.”

What does the law say?

“Under the 2010 Equality Act, the law protects those who are classed as having a ‘disability’,” explains employment lawyer Kevin Poulter.

“In employment law terms, this means a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

“Only where an employee is classed as disabled would the employer be obliged to provide ‘reasonable adjustments’, which will vary from person to person. Where there are mental health concerns, this might include being permitted to work from home, and  alternative working hours to avoid busy commuter times.”

But where can people go for legal support? “Most employment solicitors will be able to provide advice,” says Kevin. “Alternatively, there may be Law Centres or Citizens Advice where people can seek free advice.”

The therapist’s view

Counselling Directory member Jane Czyzselska is a London-based counsellor who works with LGBTI clients. She acknowledges the pressures that the workplace can put on an individual:

“The workplace is often as much a source of stress as it can be a source of fulfilment: the dynamics arising from the structure of power in the workplace often get played out in a way that might cause or exacerbate anxiety, trauma or depression, a sense of powerlessness or a sense of feeling trapped.

“Good workplaces may offer counselling to their staff however those such as Davey, with mental health conditions, are all too often penalised.”

“Talking through what’s causing you distress either with a counsellor, a trusted friend, partner or family member can help to clarify the cause of the distress and what the next steps might be towards addressing it.”

“Counselling isn’t for everyone,” argues Jane. “But it can help those who feel stuck or in crisis, anxious or depressed, or those who find that they are struggling in the present because of events in the recent or distant past. Therapy isn’t a quick fix and requires commitment, but it can make a big difference in how you see yourself and navigate life.”

In addition to counselling, Jane explains that breathing techniques may offer some relief If you’re feeling panicky at work: “Find a quiet place and breathe through the nose into the belly for seven seconds and breathe out slowly through the mouth for 11 seconds. Doing this two or three times, will have a calming effect.”

Of course, Davey is just one of many gay and bisexual men who have faced challenges with their mental health. Looking at the LGBT community more widely, we know that we’re disproportionately impacted by anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Tie that in with unemployment, homelessness and losing a support network, and you’ve got the perfect storm. Thankfully individuals like Davey are making a difference by opening up the mental health conversation.

Mental Health Awareness Week begins on Monday 14th May and perhaps is an opportunity to remember what others may be going through and how we can all work together to support them.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the Samaritans on 116 123. Mental Health Awareness Week is 14/05/2018.