Talking Heads reporter Calum Tyler writes about his experiences with mental health when growing up on the Isle of Lewis and at university. 

I started having serious problems with my mental health when I was 15. I was quiet and socially awkward. I didn’t have many friends and one person who I hung out with was emotionally and sometimes physically abusive.

This all happened on the Isle of Lewis, where I was born and grew up. I had problems with abusive friends during my time in secondary school. When I went into S3, the first years quickly picked up that I was an easy target and had an English accent, and they started shouting “tea and scones” at me. I lived an hour’s drive away from my school in Stornoway and I didn’t have any friends that lived nearby.  

In fifth year, I started plucking my eyelashes. It was a coping mechanism, an obsessive compulsive disorder and a form of self-harm. It turned into a vicious circle where I was self-conscious of my eyelashes and that anxiety made me pluck them more.

At 16, I left school. I was having an awful time and felt lucky that I’d got good enough Highers to justify leaving. I went to Lews Castle College for a year and, although I was a lot younger than everyone else on the course, I got on well with them. However, that year was pretty tough as I found the coursework difficult and the abusive friend was still around; we were both involved in a filmmaking club. I experienced a lot of loss that year too. My grandfather, who I was very close to, died just after Christmas, and in the summer, a family member took their own life. 

In the autumn, I went to university in Edinburgh and it felt amazing. During fresher’s week I was astounded that strangers were talking to me without mocking me. I enjoyed my flat, got on well with my flatmates and made some great friends. In the next few years, though, my mental state became worse and worse. I was staying in flats that I didn’t like and wasn’t doing very well academically. In my third year, my mental health was so bad that I had to take a break from university and go back home to Lewis.

My family were supportive but didn’t quite understand, and I found the break very difficult. I sometimes had panic attacks just from being outside. I was terrified of people on the island finding out, seeing me as this loser who tried to leave and failed. I knew how fast news spreads on the island. The help that I initially received in Stornoway just involved the therapist listing questions and ticking boxes. The questions asked included whether I owned a firearm and if I had tattoos.

After the break, I did manage to go back to university. I still had problems with flatmates, but I managed to overcome them and pass my third year. Afterwards, I felt unsure of what I wanted to do with my degree, so decided to graduate with an ordinary degree. I came back to Lewis where I knew I would be safe and looked after. I went back to the Stornoway Health Centre and got proper help through therapy. The support I received from my family and friends helped make my mental state a lot better and more stable.  

I’m now much more comfortable talking about my condition and my mental health. However, I still feel strange telling my story in public. I don’t want to come across as a victim or make out that my problems are worse than anyone else’s. I’m still in a strange place and there are a lot of bad days. But I’m also having a lot of good days and looking forward to the future.   

By Calum Tyler

Calum is a 23 year old living in Lewis. Having battled through depression and anxiety, Calum is very passionate about telling stories about mental health issues.

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