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#BeAGameChanger: 'We never thought suicide could happen to someone like Foz'

Foz was always the joker on our nights out – always the one making us laugh the hardest. He was totally self-deprecating and happy to be the butt of the joke – which I always thought was because he was so confident in himself.

As much as he liked to joke around, he was the most level-headed of all of us – he had a sensible job in finance, was in a loving relationship and was an amazing dad to a little boy.

So it came as a total shock in November 2017 when we heard that our good mate Foz had taken his own life.

Myself and his closest friends hadn’t noticed any warning signs. Beyond his partner and a few medical professionals he hadn’t told anyone what he was going through. Hadn’t told anyone of his depression. It rocked our friendship group massively.

We’d all kept in touch since school, often meeting up and chatting on our group WhatsApp chats. Foz and our other friend, Andrew, had both moved to London from the North East, so they met up each week for breakfast. But that week, Andrew called me to tell me that Foz had taken his own life the day before they were due to catch up.

I think the fact that Foz and I both have children of the same age is what struck me the hardest. I couldn’t imagine being in such a dark place that I could leave my little boy. But it seems Foz believed that his family were better off without him. He must have been in the depths of despair and I can barely imagine what that must feel like.

I went to the funeral and reflected on my thoughts and how I’d been feeling. Like Foz, I hadn’t spoken to anybody in our group about mental health.

But the truth was that I hadn’t been feeling great for a while either.

I went to the doctor and we spoke about my mood day-to-day and how I hadn’t been feeling great or coping well with things. He diagnosed me with depression.

I was able to access therapy, and I was prescribed medication, which helps. But it was only then that I decided to open up to my mates.

We were unanimous in what we felt we needed to do. Since losing Foz, we all decided that we needed to talk more. Not just rely on the group WhatsApp, not just to quickly check in, but to really ask how we all were.

It transpired that, in our group, several of us were dealing with difficult issues. Whether that be depression, or drinking too much, or anxiety. It’s surprisingly common.

One of the guys started talking about his symptoms of depression about eight or nine months down the line. We met up and I was able to share my experience of getting help. He then made an appointment with his doctor and was also diagnosed with depression and is now getting the help he needs.

The thing with mental illness is, it’s an illness that you don’t really see. But it’s an illness that can kill you. It’s easy to think of a stereotype of someone who is really down and upset all the time and associate that with mental health problems. But Foz wasn’t like that at all. You just can’t tell.

This is why, as a group, we’re passionate about raising awareness and getting people talking. And we’ve used one of our favourite sports as a way to do this.

As kids, we all used to play football, so it felt like a natural step organising a charity football match to raise awareness of suicide and raise funds for a local charity. ‘The Foz Cup’ is now an annual event, with its own trophy, and all funds raised go to the Matthew Elvidge Trust – a charity set up in memory of Newcastle University graduate Matthew Elvidge, who tragically also took his own life after a very short period of anxiety and depression. He was just 23.

After we play the match, we all go for drinks to remember Foz. And it’s this gathering where we hope we can proactively encourage more of us to open up. Football is a great way to unite people in conversation, which is why I’m also very supportive of Newcastle United Foundation’s #BeAGameChanger campaign – which is getting Newcastle United fans, like us, talking more openly about mental health on social media, at matches, at events and so much more.

I used to feel quite ashamed about how I felt. But if we open up we can remove the shame and start to tackle the problem before it gets too big. Suicide doesn’t have to happen. If we all work together and support one another, we can save lives.

Whatever you’re going through, you can speak to Samaritans for free at any time, from any phone, on 116 123. Alternatively, visit samaritans.org.

For more information, advice and support through #BeAGameChanger, visit our dedicated page or join the #BeAGameChanger Facebook community.


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