Conor urges NI men to talk about their mental health

Now in its 12th year in the UK, Movember encourages millions of men around the world to embrace the moustache in all its glorious forms.

Saturday, 2nd November 2019, 7:00 am
Conor McReynolds who is a Movember community ambassador

Northern Ireland native Conor McReynolds is a Movember Community Ambassador, and his route to the role is a heart-breaking one.

On the night of the 2016 UEFA Champions League final, Conor made the decision to take his life.

The 32-year-old had struggled with depression for over two years, and had reached his lowest point.

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But the comedian and radio host remembers the image of one of football’s most iconic stars crying on the pitch for the world to see, half an hour after he’d planned to kill himself, which gave him some perspective.

“I went into my bathroom and I was 100 per cent sure that I wasn’t coming out,” Conor said. “That was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me.

“I collapsed in a heap and my partner rushed in. What always sticks in my mind is 30 minutes after I thought I was going to kill myself, I saw Cristiano Ronaldo injured in the 2016 Euro final.”

Three years on, Conor is in a much better place with his mental health – but his journey to get there has been far from easy.

The Oxford resident shares his story to help others struggling with mental health issues.

This year will be his ninth taking part in Movember, originally getting involved to support a close friend who lost their dad to prostate cancer. But after being diagnosed with depression in 2014, his reasons for supporting the cause became much more personal.

Prior to the diagnosis, Conor’s low mood had led to the breakdown of his relationship and saw him call off his wedding with his partner, Kirsty.

He said: “My partner and I had a wedding planned for August 2014. But I was feeling so unwell, and it was affecting my mood so much, that our relationship was in a really bad place.

“I attributed all my unhappiness to the relationship. So, I made the difficult decision at the time to call off the wedding, separate and move out of our house.

“What followed were the worst six weeks of my life. I thought that once the relationship was gone, I would begin to feel a bit better.

“But I actually started to feel worse without Kirsty there, and I realised it couldn’t have been the relationship that was affecting me.”

After the couple’s councillor suggested Conor may be depressed, the months and years that followed saw him try out different medications and talking therapies to find something which worked.

Conor said: “Kirsty and I started trying to get back together. I went to a doctor, and even the diagnosis itself felt really weird.

“I remember the doctor saying ‘If you tell me you’re depressed, I’ll say you’re depressed and prescribe for that’. I found it all quite odd.”

Conor’s work life began to suffer, as he felt he had to “act” like he was happy on the job.

“I was having a difficult time at work - I’m usually quite a jovial, upbeat person,” Conor said. “I felt a really big pressure to pretend all the time that I was feeling ok when I wasn’t.

‘‘I’d have to get myself back into that ‘role ’and ask myself what I sounded like when I was happy. I was physically, mentally and emotionally drained from pretending for so long.”

Like Conor did, thousands of men feel they have to hide their mental struggles at work for the sake of their career, according to new research conducted by Movember.

It revealed around 30 per cent of men would be reluctant to open up about their mental health problems in case it had a negative impact on their career.

Research also found some 51 per cent of men said they couldn’t take time off work for personal or mental health issues, showing the stigma surrounding mental health still preventing men from talking about their problems and seeking help.

Fortunately, Conor was among the other 49 per cent able to take a break.

“I went to the doctor and said I was struggling at work, and they advised I take a few weeks off - that turned into nearly three months,” he said.

During his time off, Conor really plateaued and struggled with agoraphobia. He attributes the help of an “unexpected” friend with pulling him out of that hole.

“One friend who is a bit more of a lad, and I thought would have a ‘man up, there’s nothing wrong’ attitude, was so caring and sympathetic,” Conor said.

“One Saturday we were due to go to Twickenham, but when the morning came I felt dreadful.

“I was so nervous about telling him I didn’t feel up to it that I hid and sent my partner down to speak to him.

“He just sent me a message saying ‘look after yourself and don’t worry about the game, everything is fine’.

“I really believe the combination of good friends, medication and talking therapy kept me alive.”

Conor is determined to use his experience to help other blokes struggling with mental health issues. And he says opening up and trusting your mates is the best way to get out of a dark place.

“If you’re not feeling yourself, trust the people in your life,” Conor said. “If you put a bit of faith in people, they will reward it.

‘‘If you place trust in people and tell them how you’re feeling and ask for help, they will rise to it.

“And if you’re a guy who notices your friend isn’t doing so well, don’t leave yourself in a position where someday you might be saying ‘I really wish I’d just asked if they were OK’.”

And should you want to expand your facial furniture into a beard, why not go chin-deep and grow one for ‘Decembeard’?

The campaign aims to raise awareness and money to support vital research and lifesaving work to stop bowel cancer.

It states: ‘‘Whether you’re new to facial fuzz or an experienced beard grower it’s easy to join in; just clean shave on 30th November and watch your beard blossom. Already bearded? Ditch or dye your beard for December and get sponsored to sport a new look for the month.’’

So, as men across Northern Ireland put away their razors and embark on their hairy task, whether that be to grow a nondescript line of fluff, a sinister pencil-thin tache, or a hipstery beard (the sort favoured by guys concerned about the provenance of their coffee), remember, mock not, for their intention is good - and that is to help raise funds and prevent other men having a close shave with their health.