To celebrate YorkMix’s choice of York Mind as our charity of the year, and to highlight Mental Health Awareness Week next month, Robert Beaumont begins a series of articles on the work of one of the city’s most vital charities
Martin Warley is a big man. In every way. He is well over six foot, with broad shoulders and a strong, confident gaze to match.
As a former British Army Corporal, who worked with the army’s bomb disposal unit in Belfast, he knows the importance of courage and the nature of pressure. He is honest. He is brave.
But when I ask him about his relationship with York Mind, York’s leading mental health charity, his clear eyes soften, betraying gratitude and insecurity in equal measure.
“They saved my life,” he says, without a hint of drama.
Martin is now a 45-year-old data analyst with Network Rail in York. He is speaking out about his own mental health problems, which so nearly ended up in the tragedy of suicide, in a bid to remove the stigma of depression – and to educate the general public, whose perception of depression is so often shaped by cheap headlines in the tabloid press.
Descent into mental torment
His problems with depression started after he had left the Army, joined Network Rail and moved to York with his wife Elaine.
On the surface, this intelligent and articulate man had so much to live for – but depression doesn’t respect a secure job, a loving relationship and a comfortable home in a beautiful city.
“It is very difficult to pinpoint exactly when and why my descent in mental hell began,” says Martin.
“But I believe the combination of a severe lack of sleep, a raft of negative thoughts about my worthlessness and my desire for perfectionism contributed heavily to a downward spiral which led inexorably to the meticulous planning of my suicide three years ago.”
Deeply worried as he struggled with work and all relationships, eventually feeling unable to express his feelings even to Elaine, Martin visited a doctor in the summer of 2012, who signed him off work for two months with “stress”.
There was no back-up therapy or medication. He was simply hung out to dry.
“My mind was filled with chaotic, negative thoughts. I couldn’t sleep. I took no pleasure in anything.
“It wasn’t just that life wasn’t worth living, it was a living hell. The closest thing I can describe it to is like the manic exchanges during seven or eight days on the Stock Exchange, all condensed into my head, multiplied a million times.”
I planned it meticulously, deciding that the best way to kill myself was by throwing myself off a multi-storey car park in the centre of York.
I didn’t want to kill myself at home and, as an employee of Network Rail, I thought it would be inappropriate to throw myself under a train.
That thought in itself, me worrying about doing something inappropriate when I was killing myself, illustrates how utterly confused I was.
Thankfully, on his way to the centre of York from his Heworth home to kill himself, Martin passed the Monkgate Health Clinic and, on an impulse, went in. There, a nurse who had previously worked in mental health, saw something was dreadfully, dreadfully wrong.
She called the police. It was at that moment that Martin began his ascent from hell, though he didn’t know it at the time.
After a spell in Bootham Psychiatric Hospital, where he was looked after “brilliantly”, Martin eventually went back to work at Network Rail. It was there he came across York Mind, who were holding a mental health awareness workshop there. This was a watershed meeting.
In November 2013 he started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy at York Mind. This was to provide him with the tools to aid his recovery from – and ongoing management of – his depression.
“My therapist was a brilliant post-graduate student from York University called Luana,” Martin said.
“Whilst I understand that medication has a vital role in treating the illness, I believe that to ensure that when the medication has run its course, it is important to confront and if necessary change the thinking patterns that may have contributed to the onset of the illness and could be the foundations of why the illness originally manifested itself.”
Reliance on medication alone increases the probability of relapse, Martin believes.
At times the therapy has proved difficult, especially in the gaining of the understanding that previous thinking styles such as needing to be in control and perfectionism, which has previously allowed me to achieve things in my life and career, have got out of control and are now actually harming me.
His treatment journey has not been easy. “The realisation that I was exhibiting signs of ‘panic disorder’ was extremely distressing but in the longer term explained a lot of my behaviour,” said Martin.
“This understanding has led to my gaining ‘control’ of the disorder by firstly realising that panic is not a sign of my imminent relapse into mental ill health and that by confronting the panic, associated thoughts and situations, I can overcome it.
“Indeed I am now living life in a manner I would have thought impossible 12 months ago and this has given me confidence for the future.
“My experience of CBT at York Mind is extremely positive and I would not hesitate to recommend this to anyone in need,” he added.
Such a recommendation comes from the heart of a very courageous man, who is unflinchingly honest about his depression.
As Mental Health Awareness Week approaches, we must all reflect on the painful truth that Martin’s harrowing story will strike a chord with many who read it.