Tuesday 20 March 2018

'Every single level of your life you feel like you've failed' - journalist Jonny McCambridge speaks frankly about breakdown

Jonny McCambridge opened up about his struggles with mental health on BBC Radio Ulster
Jonny McCambridge opened up about his struggles with mental health on BBC Radio Ulster
Patricia Murphy

Patricia Murphy

A former journalist has been commended after sharing his personal experience with mental illness, which he said he kept hidden from those closest to him for decades until he "cracked".

Northern Irish journalist Jonny McCambridge said he concealed his struggles with depression and anxiety from his family, friends and colleagues until he became unwell in 2013, and voluntarily checked himself into a mental health treatment centre.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's The Nolan Show on Monday, the dad-of-one said he buried his illness in his work as a deputy editor in a large newspaper and said his commitment to the job became a coping mechanism.

"For years, literally decades I kept this bottled up inside me, daily struggles and suicidal feelings, depression and anxiety," said McCambridge.

"I just didn't tell anybody. The mind is such a funny and scary place, you learn ways to cope and you learn ways to put things into boxes and I guess I hid things behind a gregarious personality and people thought 'Oh that's just Jon he's very funny, he's very loud'. Even the people closest to me in the world didn't have any idea what was going on until I cracked.

"Work becomes a comfort because whenever you feel like you don't belong anywhere you find something at work. My wife was a journalist as well and we threw ourselves into it. I worked ridiculous long hours, we never took breaks, we didn't take proper holidays. Even when I was away I was working. It was my coping mechanism, but at the same time it was draining me over the years until I had nothing else," he said.

McCambridge spoke honestly about the decline in his mental health and said he experienced a particularly difficult period in 2013 when he began to lose the control he had held for so long. The dad confided in his wife for the first time, and agreed to be treated in hospital for anxiety and depression.

"I'd essentially had a period where things had been getting worse. I'd been going for long walks, drinking too much, smoking too much, not sleeping, not eating. My behaviour was getting very erratic. I became very close a number of times of not being able to come back and I had to tell my wife what was going on. We went to see a doctor and another, and they said 'We think you should go into hospital - if not voluntarily, we have the power to section you'," he said.

After begin admitted to hospital, McCambridge said he felt feelings of failure, and worried that people would see his illness as a weakness.

"I had come from being deputy editor to all of a sudden doing things like gathering in circles doing sing alongs and playing card games like Snap.

"It's humiliation, it's disbelief. You feel like a failure. Every single level of your life you feel like you've failed - as a father, as a husband, as a journalist, as a man, as a human being.

"I was worried about what people would think about me and there still is that part of me. It's so, so difficult. That people are going to think you're weak, or a drama queen. It's part of this process.

"I was on suicide watch. I remained there for 24 hours or so and then they were comfortable enough to move me into a room with some of the other patients.

"It's almost like being in prison in the sense that you have no responsibility yourself and everyone's making all your decisions for you," he said.

"The funny thing is, in a way you start to enjoy it because there was a sense of community."

During his treatment, McCambridge said he put pressure on himself to return to his career and was determined to return to work as soon as possible, which he feels was the wrong strategy.

"I took the wrong approach which was 'I'm going to be back in work in three months, back in this newsroom and off all medication'. You know how macho the media world is and I didn't help myself in that respect," he said.

After returning to work, the dad-of-one said his health began to decline once again and he made the difficult decision to take a step back from journalism after a long career in the media.

"I felt myself getting sick again and I could see the signs. I knew I'd end up in the same situation again. I hadn't learned anything. A lot of people knew I'd been away from work for three months and people must have had some curiosity about where I'd been.

"It was about a year or so ago, I just made a decision, and it was a huge decision, to not go on with work anymore. I couldn't see a way I could work in the media that was going to be healthy for me."

McCambridge now works as a freelancer and is a stay-at-home parent to his four-year-old son. The dad recently penned a blog about his experience, on his website 'What's A Daddy For', which has been widely commended.

"Since I've started blogging, I've met so many people who have talked to me around this issue and I started to think because of the positions I've held, perhaps my story might be able to help other people. I've been utterly overwhelmed with the response. I've had complete strangers coming to me and telling me their stories. It's been very humbling and very inspirational."

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article please contact the Samaritans on 116123 for support or visit the website on www.samaritans.org.

Pieta House can be contacted on 1800 247 247.  For more information on Pieta House visit www.pieta.ie.

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