Open Up: ‘When my black dog bites and lays me low, I bite back and rise again’

Ade Cockburn, Charlotte Underwood, Dave Thomas, Malcolm Blowers and Mark O' Connell who are speaking

Ade Cockburn, Charlotte Underwood, Dave Thomas, Malcolm Blowers and Mark O' Connell who are speaking out about men's mental health. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

As this newspaper launches four days of coverage of men's mental health issues, experienced right here in Norfolk and Waveney, five people told their stories - in their words - to show the impact the crisis has on everyday lives.

Ade Cockburn. Picture: Ade Cockburn

Ade Cockburn. Picture: Ade Cockburn - Credit: Ade Cockburn

Ade Cockburn

I am one of the one in four suffering from mental illness in the UK. I have clinical depression and anxiety. Diagnosed in 2007 following a mental breakdown, having suffered since 2003. Sometimes my world is devastating.

As my black dog bites, I feel worthless, a waste of a heartbeat. I don't feel sad; I feel nothing at all. Having anxiety and the empathic side of my brain being highly developed means I also feel too much. Having both literally tears me apart.

Have I two heads? No. Do I rock back and forth raging at myself? No. But that's a mentally ill person isn't it? Not always. I function.

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I have a successful career. I am also a solo singer and guitarist. When my black dog bites and lays me low, I bite back and rise again. I am not alone, neither are you.

Charlotte Underwood. Picture: Charlotte Underwood

Charlotte Underwood. Picture: Charlotte Underwood - Credit: Charlotte Underwood

Charlotte Underwood, King's Lynn

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From a young age, I battled my mental health, before I even knew what mental health was. I had no idea that at the same time, my dad was going through similar thoughts.

We both felt unloved, not good enough, and at one point we both wanted to die. I survived but my dad, he didn't. I had a hard time talking about my feelings but my dad seemed to struggle more, because he felt like he'd fail us as the protector.

I would rather be there for every tear, argument and struggle, than live in the world that I live in now, one without my dad in it.

My feelings matter, my father's feelings matter, your feelings matter. They are all valid, real and we all deserve to have our voices heard. Maybe if we listen to each other more, stories like mine don't need to become the norm.

Dave Thomas. Picture: Dave Thomas

Dave Thomas. Picture: Dave Thomas - Credit: Dave Thomas

Dave Thomas, Dussindale

I'm Dave Thomas, 35, living in Dussindale with my partner Amy. I'm a manager at an accountancy firm.

My mental wellbeing is a daily skirmish with the occasional battle, I've had depression for a long time but only the last two years have I started to speak about it. Talking to professionals, friends and family has had an amazing impact on how I deal with it. This can involve uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, not wanting to leave the house or for myself, looking to destroy what I care about linked to feeling very undeserving of anything positive in my life.

Being male its almost taboo at times to speak out, yet 75pc of yearly suicides are male. Men struggle to talk and I feel this is changing slowly.

I put myself in this mindset as it took me years to finally say something. Since opening up I now do what I can to help and encourage others.

Malcolm Blowers. Picture: Malcolm Blowers

Malcolm Blowers. Picture: Malcolm Blowers - Credit: Malcolm Blowers

Malcolm Blowers, Kessingland

My name is Malcolm Blowers, I'm 74 years of age, and I live in Kessingland.

It all started in the winter of 1967 /1968 and I was sectioned into St Nicholas Hospital in Great Yarmouth. Me and the patients on the ward decided when we got discharged, we would meet in the pub over the road from the hospital every Wednesday at 11am. And that was the start of the unofficial drop-ins. From that time on, I have been running drop-ins in Great Yarmouth and Waveney ever since.

Nine years ago, I was given £27,000 from a commissioner named Linda Offord and I started the Great Yarmouth and Waveney Feedback.

I did not see eye to eye with the people in feedback so in February this year, Lisa Jay and I started Waveney Mental Health Support Drop Ins for people with mental health problems and don't know how to seek guidance.

Mark O'Connell. Picture: Mark O'Connell

Mark O'Connell. Picture: Mark O'Connell - Credit: Mark O'Connell

Mark O'Connell

My name is Mark O'Connell, I'm 56 and work as a process oriented psychologist and child psychotherapist.

When I was 18, in a loving family in a comfortable middle class situation. I then had some quite profound experiences around drug taking which shook my world view. I became very anxious and found that my sense of what was 'real' had now expanded dramatically and I didn't know how to integrate my experiences with everyday life.

The first thing that really helped me was learning to meditate. That really helped me with my states of mind, maybe grounding me more. I feel now that I kind of created my own rites of passage as a teenager becoming an adult, and there was little guidance or support from elders who knew about what i was experiencing. It was probably process oriented psychology which later helped me most, as I could then study in depth with lots of other people.

So now I am learning about connecting with nature and nature experiences, playfulness, humour, and creativity. I also find that having really good friends who you can be open with and feel loved and accepted by is important for me. My wish for young people, and young men is for them to find in themselves what makes them feel alive, and not to be so focussed on what is expected of them. For every person this can be different.

In this special report this newspaper has brought together the first-person stories of 20 people - mostly men - who have experienced mental ill health, as well as the families affected when help has not been sought, and professionals trying to help.

Over four days this newspaper will be sharing the stories of men, their families, and health professionals, to show it is okay for men to talk about mental health.

- To share your story and get involved, tweet or send us a video using the hashtag #EDPOpenUp and tag @EDP24 - you can also email

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