Part of our partnership with AWARE is raising awareness of mental health, and supporting our customers and our colleagues. AWARE is celebrating 25 years of operation this year, and to celebrate they are asking everyone to have more conversations about mental health, and more conversations with friends and families in general.

Stuart’s story

I grew up with both my parents suffering from depression for years. Once I saw what they went through, I made the decision that I would not allow myself to suffer that way. As I moved into my twenties, I wouldn’t allow myself to talk about how I felt. When it came to a man’s mental health and wellbeing, my view was it didn’t really matter – it was the old stigma, “You’re a man, and we don’t talk about these things…if I don’t admit it, I’ll be fine”. So, I buried the feelings deep down and ignored them. This only worked for a short while, then everything would get too much. I would break down, but I still wouldn’t talk to anyone about it and hide the fact I was suffering. It was a vicious circle.

Meeting my wife, and starting our family made me double down on how I felt. I now had to be strong for my family and not talk about my feelings. Be the protector, the head of the household and the main provider. Even when my wife would try to get me to talk, I would be dismissive and tell her, “I’m fine”. As our family grew, I would continue to bury the feelings of not being good enough for my wife, kids or friends. I would also turn to drink when I felt low. Although this didn’t help and would cause arguments between my family and me, I thought “this is how you deal with it - have a drink and forget about it all”.

For about 18 months, things got really bad. Knowing that I was hurting my wife and three kids, made me feel worse and added to my low points. This led to me sitting alone in my living room at 2 am ready to end it all. Although I remember it, it felt like I was watching someone else. After sitting there for two hours, thankfully the sound of my daughter waking from her sleep crying jolted me out of my trance-like state. If this didn’t happen, I don’t believe I would be here today.

Looking back, that thought scares the life out of me - yet still, I didn’t get help at this point or tell anyone. My turning point wasn’t until last November. After going out with my best friend for a drink, I came home early, broke down to my wife and told her everything. I thought she may have thought less of me, or worse, that the way I was feeling was somehow her fault. But sharing how I was feeling made the decision, to take the step to get help and to contact my GP, much easier as we did it together. Once I finally opened up to my wife, it felt like a weight was lifted from me. Although I wasn’t in a better place straight away, I did feel so much better.

My road to recovery started, I called the doctor who prescribed medication and referred me to a therapist. I have started to take better care of myself by eating right, drinking less, taking up painting again and starting to meditate. I had never given too much stock to meditation before, but it has helped me so much and even now, my youngest son would sit and meditate with me. I have also decided to be more active by walking every day. It helps keep my head clear and provides a target to aim for.

I have always tried to do at least one thing for Danske’s charity partner each year, but once I knew our partner was AWARE, I wanted to do something big as it’s a charity that I believe in greatly. I wanted to show that this is very close to my heart, not just for me, but for my friends and family who have suffered. To support AWARE, I chose to walk 25 miles around Danske’s Belfast branches to mark their 25th year.

Although I still experience low days, these are few and far between. My relationship has improved drastically with my family and I now feel like I can take a step back before I react to situations, which helps. I also try to talk to anyone I can about addressing the issue - my friends, and even my sons, to show them the importance of talking and not burying how you feel. I wanted to share my story to show no matter how dark it gets, there is always hope. You will always be able to get help when you need it, sometimes from the unlikeliest source - it could be a social post, a text from a mate you haven’t seen in a while or someone simply asking if you’re okay, which can trigger you to talk.

Andrew's story

I was nervous about sharing this story, but I know a lot of people struggle with mental health issues. When I told some people what I was going through, their response was that they would never have known. Mental health issues are invisible, but at the same time very real.

So… my name is Andrew and I've worked for Danske Bank for the past 13 years. The most important thing to me is my family. I'm married with three very energetic boys aged seven, four and one.

In 2018, I went through a tough period of anxiety and stress. It's difficult to pinpoint where it all started as initially I denied most of the symptoms. The main symptoms I was experiencing were lack of sleep, headaches, loss of appetite and general exhaustion from being in a permanent state of angst. I went to bed every evening exhausted from the day. Then the full cycle would begin again the next day.

The physical symptoms were one thing; however, what affected me the most was the mental/emotional side. I began to become more unlike myself (like a different person). I lost the ability to enjoy the things that I normally would - my work, hobbies, and the one that hurt me the most, my family. Instead of enjoying these things, as I should, my mind raced with worrying about what could go wrong in the upcoming day. My perspective on everything gradually became skewed and this eventually took its toll on me.

It was only after some time and reflection that I recognise these were all symptoms of stress and anxiety. The turning point for me was experiencing a panic attack – it really scared me at the time. I knew then that I needed to do something. At first I tried to cope by denying that there was anything wrong, trying to put on a brave face and to work harder. None of these techniques made me feel any better; in fact, I am sure they made things worse.

Getting support

My wife was the first person to realise what I was going through, and encouraged me to speak to somebody in work. This was something that I was nervous about. I thought that people would think I could not cope, that I wasn't a 'strong' person, and that it would affect my career. I was a bit embarrassed.

The first person I spoke to about this was a trusted colleague, who was brilliant. They listened to me and didn't judge. This in itself made me feel so much better. Then I spoke to my manager who was both understanding and supportive. They highlighted some of the support we have within the bank and reassured me about the importance of looking after myself.

I was able to avail of counselling therapy, which helped me understand the triggers for stress and anxiety, and how to cope. It was instrumental in me getting back to myself. Now I have ways to help manage my stress and anxiety levels.

I've also developed ways to help myself, such as being honest about how I feel, remembering the really important things in my life, maintaining a healthy work/life balance, exercise, and simply giving myself a break.

Find out more

You can find out more about AWARE and the work they do in Northern Ireland, as well as their fundraising opportunities and support systems on their website.