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I began suffering from mental health problems in November 2016, having just started my second year. Being diagnosed with high-functioning anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I quickly went from being a very sociable individual who enjoyed spending time with friends and family and regularly representing the Northumbria University rugby team, to being very paranoid, overly anxious and hyper critical of every aspect of my life - from social interactions to the way I looked. At the time, I didn't have a very good understanding of mental health and, being a stereotypical male, felt embarrassed and ashamed at the prospect of asking for help.

However, this is what I did. When my mental health became so bad that I didn't feel that I could cope or manage on my own anymore, I reached out to my parents, who, at the time, didn't have a clue what I was going through. Very quickly, I visited my local GP and was prescribed antidepressants, accompanied by a referral for one-to-one counselling and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions. Whether it was due to not striking up particularly strong relationships with the therapists and counsellors that I saw or putting up my own barriers, I didn't feel that the counselling or CBT sessions were working for me. The one thing that I did notice made a huge difference to how I was feeling was removing the stigma around mental health when talking with my friends and family. Rather than responding with "Yes I'm fine, how are you?", when I was asked about how I was doing, I began being honesty and open, admitting if I had had a hard week or wasn't feeling in a particularly good place at the time. For me, it was about making conversations around thoughts and feelings more commonplace among my friends and family. This was when I first became passionate about encouraging other men to do the same. One of the positives that came from the first national COVID-19 lockdown was that it provided me with the time to think about what it was that I wanted to around men's mental health. I wanted to provide a platform that I know I would have benefited from when I was struggling. Now, blOKes offers men (18+) an outlet whereby they have the chance to join an online community of likeminded men, who can all empathise and relate to what others are experiencing. The forum element of the website allows men to create a free blOKes account and share experiences, stories, tips, advice and guidance - or simply just connect with others and have a chat. We are fortunate to have several former and current professional sportsmen, including Northumbria graduate and Wasps winger Callum Sirker, as ambassadors and a number of innovative men's mental health partnerships with grassroots sports clubs and organisations. Through clothing sales, donations and fundraising efforts, our aim is to financially support of partners to facilitate mental health education, initiatives and programmes that will benefit their members are the local community.

What are you doing now?

With blOKes very much being a labour of love and something that I spend working on during my free time, I am currently working for a PR agency in Nottingham, which I very much enjoy.

What was it about Northumbria that made you decide to study here?

I absolutely love Newcastle as a place. For me, I was always attracted to the fact that the area has got a bit of everything. The urban city centre, the rural parts around Jesmond Dene and the coastal areas around Tynemouth and Whitley Bay. Similarly with Northumbria University, I always liked the fact that there are so many different opportunities - both academically and socially. Northumbria is a place where your talents and expertise - regardless of what they are - are celebrated and encouraged, so in my eyes, caters for everyone.

What was it like studying at Northumbria?  

In my experience, Northumbria treats you like an individual. No two people are the same and this is something that was reflected in lectures, assignments and feedback from members of staff. Like I said, everyone's talents and interest are championed, so the university and its staff were always fantastic in finding ways of working and getting things done that suited the individual.

How connected was your course with industry?

The university's Psychology course seemed fairly well linked in with a lot of local businesses and organisations, so students always had opportunities to obtain first-hand experience, whether through placements or voluntary roles.

If you took on a placement during your course how did you feel this helped you in your career/ with your studies?

While I didn't take on a placement, the university arranged a few months of work experience with Procter & Gamble (P&G) near Benton as consumer's shopping habits was always something that interested me. I had the opportunity to be a part of a team working on projects surrounding the importance of product placement in a supermarket and it was great to meet some really interesting people that provided me with some brilliant advice, some of which I still find helpful.

What was the best thing about your course?

The variety. There were so many different modules to choose from, which was really helpful in opening your eyes as to how psychology is relevant to almost all professions and workplaces.

How did studying at Northumbria help you achieve your career goals/ give your career an edge?

In regard to blOKes, Northumbria was definitely very influential in terms of getting me talking about my mental health. Visiting of of the university's counsellors at Student Central was one of the first people I opened up to and certainly got the ball rolling in terms of seeing the benefits of talking.

Which skills/knowledge did you learn on your course that you use most now throughout your career?

I think studying psychology has helped me to become more empathetic and understanding. Not just from a mental health perspective, but seeing the world through other people's eyes and seeing things from a different perspective, which is incredibly important when working in PR.

What did you enjoy most about your time at Northumbria University?

The people. From friends to members of staff, everyone I met made my university experience special.

What advice would you give somebody who is considering studying at Northumbria?

If you want to have a university experience where you're treated and viewed as an individual, rather than a statistic, Northumbria is the place for you. You can be who you want to be and do what you want to do. You'll meet so many people from different walks of life and will make memories that last a lifetime.

How would you describe your time at Northumbria in three words?

Canny Invaluable Unique

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