Emmerdale script adviser on how charity saved him from taking his life
After one of Emmerdale’s much-loved and longest-running characters, Paddy Kirk, attempted suicide, producers are hoping to shine a light on the tens of thousands of British men struggling with their mental health. This Friday, the soap will air its first-ever 60-minute, all-male episode in which Paddy, played by Dominic Brunt, talks to his friends about his feelings after weeks of trying to hide his depression.
It’s hoped the episode, which features a lock-in at The Woolpack, will help inspire ordinary blokes to talk more about their struggles rather than letting them fester.
According to the National Statistics Office, in 2021 there were more than 6,300 suicides registered in the UK, with men in England and Wales three times more likely to take their own lives than women.
One man for whom talking about depression was quite literally a life-saver is former school chef Neil Waine, who advised Emmerdale’s producers on the tragic storyline.
Readily admitting he would be “dead, divorced or both” if he hadn’t sought specialist help, Neil, who lives with his wife, Tracey, in Bradford, West Yorkshire, opens up about how he fell into a dark place.
“I felt like I had no purpose anymore,” admits the 49-year-old who was helped by men’s suicide prevention charity Andy’s Man Club. “I felt I was done. Thankfully I got help but if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be sitting here today talking.”
Neil’s life started to unravel a decade ago after the failure of what should have been a routine operation to reconstruct torn ligaments in his ankle.
Unable to carry on working at a school in Sheffield, and in severe pain, he spent the next few years undergoing one operation after another to rectify the problem.
All were unsuccessful and Neil was eventually registered as disabled. He soon found himself spiralling more and more into a deep depression.
“I was in this endless cycle of waiting for letters about operations,” he says. “I wasn’t working and I had no clarity anymore. It was all-consuming.”
Rather than share how he was feeling with Tracey, 39, a salon owner and teacher whom he married in 2013, like many struggling with their mental health, he hid behind a mask.
“I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone,” he says. “I felt embarrassed and my pride kicked in. In retrospect, I must have been such a miserable person to live with. Rather than tell my wife about my feelings, I would pick an argument instead. It sounds strange but it was my coping mechanism.”
Sadly, even when Neil, who had been pretending to pay the monthly mortgage payments, lost his car and house in 2015, he says he still couldn’t get himself out of the dark hole.
“I told my wife what I had done, that I had lost everything, and that I was so sorry,” he continues. “We moved out the day before the bailiffs arrived and rented a house from my in-laws but even losing my house didn’t bother me because I felt so detached.
“I know my wife was so worried about me, but I was all consumed by my own world.”
Still at his lowest ebb and refusing his wife’s offer of help, he spent another three years in a “very grim place”. Then one night in 2018, things took an even darker turn.
“I’d already had quite a few moments where I thought how easy it would be to be done with everything.”
He pauses, before continuing: “One night I found myself taking quite a few tablets.”
Thankfully, he stopped himself before it was too late. “I don’t know if it was the fear of letting people down, but I stopped,” he says. “I didn’t tell my wife what had happened but, a few days later, we were having another argument and suddenly I collapsed in a heap on the stairs.
“I told her, ‘I can’t do this anymore’. She finally convinced me I needed help.”
Shortly afterwards he found out about Andy’s Man Club. The charity, aimed at helping men with depression, was launched in 2016 in memory of Andy Roberts, 23, from Halifax, who took his own life. Before his death, he had given no prior indication that anything was wrong.
Realising there was no safe place for men to talk about their feelings, Andy’s family set up a free peer-to-peer weekly club for men.
Completely confidential, it was a roaring success and now there are 118 Andy’s Man Clubs across Britain, with meetings every Monday evening at 7pm.
“I will always remember the first day I walked in,” says Neil. “It was September 10, 2018, and world suicide prevention day. They probably didn’t know they were preventing a suicide when I walked in there.”
He admits he hated his first experience. “I didn’t talk and I wondered what I was doing. When I got home, I carried on the acting façade by telling my wife I’d had a great time.And for the next three weeks, I did exactly the same.”
But in the fourth week, he finally opened up. “And I haven’t stopped talking since,” he smiles.The chance to chat with other men struggling with mental health in confidential surroundings helped enormously. “I made friends and it was great to be able to talk with others.”
Six months later, Neil received a phone call from the Andy’s Man Club in Huddersfield, asking if he would agree to head up a local support group.
“I cried happy tears on my drive home,” he recalls.
“They told me they knew I would be able to help others. For other people to notice I was an asset was unreal. I felt like I was back in the room.”
It was a huge turning point in his life. Neil then threw himself into volunteering at the charity, raising money and helping at a homeless centre in Huddersfield.
Not long after, he secured employment, first in customer services, then in charity donations. “I don’t think they realise how much I appreciated them,” adds Neil of the companies that employed him. “They also helped save my life.” In January 2021, he started working full-time for Andy’s Man Club in a role called project development champion.
“I love going out and meeting businesses and getting them involved with us,” he enthuses. “I have a purpose and I enjoy helping others, giving them the same opportunities I had.
“Andy’s Man Club gives men the chance to talk and feel safe, and makes it accessible for men to open up.”
Praising Emmerdale’s producers and actor Dominic Brunt for his portrayal of Paddy in the challenging storyline, Neil says they have all worked incredibly hard to capture the right emotions.
“Dominic has gone to the next level in terms of his research,” he adds. “What’s been important to me is that there is a positive outcome, namely there is help out there like Andy’s Man Club. By airing an all-male episode this week, what Emmerdale is doing is ground-breaking.
“I implore anyone reading this or watching Emmerdale and feeling in a dark place to visit Andy’s Man Club. It’s the best door you could ever walk through. It will change your life.” Brunt himself said he was “privileged and honoured” to have the opportunity to bring such an important storyline to the small screen.
“I hope as many people watch it as possible,” the actor added. “I think we’ve got the perfect medium in soap to give this subject matter a platform.
“I hope we told the story as clearly as possible because every single situation is unique; every single person that goes through this is unique. They’ve got their own set of circumstances that have led them to this pinnacle of depression and I hope we told Paddy’s story as clearly as possible.”
Neil says, fortunately, he rarely has dark moments anymore and remains continually grateful for the incredible support his wife has shown him. “You look back with different eyes,” he explains. “They are not the dark eyes anymore where you can’t see the light. I am lucky and I am happy. I go home to a wife who loves me and who I know is a very special person. I treasure that.”
- Help is available at andysmanclub.co.uk. There is also the 24/7 Samaritans helpline: 116 123
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