On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is Michelangelo’s depiction of an incredible moment … the moment God created man. Pretty impressive stuff from the magic man (except for the incredibly tiny penis he gave him if the fresco is to be believed) but he didn’t create Right Hand Man … this beautiful creation is all down to me!

Right Hand Man was born out of my own personal experiences with mental health issues. Experiences that have been unpleasant at times but nonetheless they’ve shaped me in to the person i am today and have put me in a position where i can start something that can hopefully be of benefit to a lot of people. Mental health is one of those stigmatised topics that the majority of people would rather walk over broken glass than discuss. I will admit that i was one of those people both before experiencing my own issues and since having them plus I was incredibly dismissive of mental health issues too. Many years ago, I remember a colleague was looking for sponsorship for the Great Manchester Run and when she told me she was running it for Mind i remember having a conversation about depression not being “a proper illness” … well aint karma a bitch!

My Story

I have had issues with depression and social anxiety over the last 9 years. I don’t remember a defining moment that kick-started it all but over these years there have been some incredibly dark periods. It’s fair to say that with depression and anxiety you don’t really get it until you get it if that makes sense. This is why it’s such a tricky one to talk to others about as they can’t really understand where you are coming from. Depression is much more than just feeling a bit sad. It’s not something you can just snap out of. It’s not something that will pass. It’s not a phase you’re going through. It’s not something man-ing up will fix. It is a proper illness.

I deliberately avoided using the phrase “suffered with depression and social anxiety over the last 9 years.” because i am proud of how i’ve managed these issues during that time. Yes sure there have been times where i’ve felt like i’ve been suffering but in the grand scheme of things they are minimal. It would be a more accurate description to say i’ve lived with depression and social anxiety. I’ve forged out a successful career that’s brought with it the trappings of a comfortable lifestyle, i’ve been to some amazing places and i’ve met some incredible people all whilst living with mental health issues. I’m not telling you this as some kind of brag, i just feel it’s important to communicate that even though you experience mental health issues it doesn’t mean it has to define you. It doesn’t have to prevent you from going where you want in life and getting what you want from life … you can live with mental health issues.

I’ve never been medicated for my condition as i have always resisted this. I’m not against medicated solutions though as i believe for the right people in the right situations it can absolutely be the right solution however, for me, i didn’t want to go down the route of pills. The side-effects can vary and although described as “happy pills” they don’t actually make you feel “happy” they just give you a “normal” balance and i didn’t want to become reliant on a pill to feel “normal”. Everybody is different though and every case should be treated on it’s own merits. The thing that used to get me back on an even keel was talking and this was the spark for the conception of the Right Hand Man platform.

I’ve only really spoken properly with one friend about my issues over the years. He’s never really offered any advice or solutions because a lot of the time that isn’t what i needed. What he has done though is just listen and it’s amazing what a positive effect it has. The problem i’ve found is that i used to wait until i was at absolute rock bottom before i would approach him for these chats. You can probably count on one hand the number of times we’ve properly spoken about it over the years. One reason for this is because i feel it’s unfair to burden him with it all but also because it’s something that’s incredibly difficult to talk about. Speaking aloud thoughts that have only previously circulated around your own head is not easy at all especially when it’s a subject matter you know they will struggle to properly understand having not been through something similar themselves. I thought it would therefore be a good idea for people like myself to talk to each other and help each other out. I wanted to arrange somewhere people in similar situations could meet up regularly and just talk to each other, relate to each other and instil that sense that you aren’t alone in feeling this way. I’d like to think that if i participated in something like this on a regular basis then i might never reach that rock bottom place that currently forces me to speak out.

The Project

I decided to focus the project on men as, what can i say, i like a challenge! We are notoriously shit at being human – there is a toxic expectation with men to act in a certain way that detaches you from your feelings and emotions. The archaic views that men are tough and that men don’t cry lead to men not speaking out when they’re struggling for fear of being thought of as weak or less of a man. The fairer sex are much better at expressing their emotions, at supporting each other, at recognising when they need help and at getting that help. All that leads to stats like this…

75% of those diagnosed with depression are women; 75% of suicides are male

The stats around male suicide are heartbreaking. 84 men each week take this option – 12 each day – 1 man every 2 hours. Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 years old. That means if you’re a man aged under 45 the biggest threat to your existence right now is YOU! Frightening and yet the impact of something so simple as talking could be enormous. I’ve therefore started Right Hand Man as a platform for guys to share their issues and experiences – we can all be each others Right Hand Man.

The first step is to just get guys talking as i know it will make a huge difference. The face to face meetings will be held locally to me in Manchester initially but the website has been designed with a forum facility too where people from all over can interact with each other and support each other in the same way but on a digital platform. It’s a non-judgemental environment where guys can just get things off their chests. Listen to what others are going through and relate to them and support one another. There is no reason why people from other areas of the country couldn’t run face to face meetings as well and make this support network accessible to as many people as possible – this is something i’d positively want to encourage. I also don’t just want it to be a platform for those experiencing issues. I want it to be for all guys. To educate those who aren’t experiencing issues as to what signs to look out for in their mates and how to handle certain situations involving mental health issues. The more people it can be of benefit to the better.

The need for something of this nature i think will be huge and the benefits of it could genuinely be life saving for some. I want to stress though that this is purely a peer support project. It certainly shouldn’t replace those needing to seek professional help from doing so but we know what a strain the NHS is under and the mental health epidemic is growing rapidly and something as simple as this could be what some need to stop them reaching the point of medical assistance at all. The NHS Long Term Plan has pledged an extra £2.3bn for mental health care and is also looking for community support for it’s social prescribing initiative and this project fits perfectly with that. We shouldn’t just rely on our NHS … we have a responsibility as a society to do what’s best for our health and if we can help each other out in this way then that can only be a good thing.

Get Involved

I want to thank you for taking the time to read this first blog. I’m going to commit time to writing many more on various subjects as well as inviting others to contribute material too. I would also ask that you sign up to our community so that you can participate in the forum. You are the most important ingredient – your experiences, your thoughts, your insights are what this is all about and it will only be a success with people like you involved so sign up today and simply start a conversation and help normalise talking about mental health.

I really hope this takes off and who knows, at some point in the future, one of the other Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles might redecorate a ceiling somewhere with a picture of me launching this project … The Creation of Right Hand Man.

Phil x