Suicide: How fatherhood stress and undiagnosed cancer led Bathgate man to nearly take his life

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ROBERT Allen came within seconds of taking his own life on a railway platform in January 2019.

The civil servant, from Bathgate in West Lothian, had been hiding severe depression as he struggled with fatherhood and fatigue caused by then-undiagnosed kidney cancer.

He explains: “I had a lot of issues with my own upbringing. I didn’t have a particularly healthy relationship with my own Dad, and when I became a dad myself I was in a constant state of anxiety and fear that I wasn’t going to be able to be the Dad that my son wanted me to be.

“I couldn’t do anything without getting really tired and it got to the position where I was doing everything I could to avoid being with my family, especially my son, because I was finding it so hard.

“But at the same time that was feeding into the depression and self-loathing because I couldn’t be the dad I wanted to be. I’d describe it as the perfect storm.”

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At the time, Mr Allen’s son was just four years old but despite his mental anguish, he said he “took pride” in bottling up his feelings rather than seeking help.

He hopes that by sharing his experience he will help others to realise that they are not alone.

“The only thing I was taking pride in at that time was keeping it from everybody. It wasn’t obvious to anyone really on the outside what was going through my head.

Robert Allen said the breakthrough for his recovery was talking about the experience with other men who had also considered or attempted suicide

“I was aware of places I could have gone [for help], but ultimately I thought it didn’t matter because the only solution to my problems was not being around any more.

“I thought ‘I’m not much of a dad, I’m not much of a husband, it’s only going to improve things if I’m not around’.”

After suffering what he describes as a “complete mental and emotional breakdown”, Mr Allen, now 39, finally opened up to his wife and revealed how close he had come to ending his life.

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Following a visit to his GP, Mr Allen, who had also stopped taking his diabetes medication, was referred for blood tests which picked up abnormalities, and in turn led to the chance discovery of his kidney cancer following an abdominal ultrasound.

“It sounds really strange but discovering I had cancer was one of the luckiest things that could have happened to me, because it suddenly gave me an explanation for the fatigue I was feeling and a platform to forgive myself.”

Mr Allen has since made a full recovery which he credits the support of his wife and the Scottish Association for Mental Health’s Changing Room initiative, which brings together men aged 30 to 64 to share their experiences of mental health difficulties.

It has been running at Hibernian and Hearts Football Clubs since 2017, and has received further funding to allow it to scale up across the country.

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Mr Allen said: “Suddenly here was this feeling that I wasn’t on my own. Here were people who understood how I was feeling, and that I could talk to, because they’d had their own experiences.

“It’s being part of something and not just feeling that you were being listened to, but having the opportunity to be the person that somebody else can talk to.

“The feeling of self-worth that comes from that – that was the single biggest factor that got me back on track.

“The tragic thing is the people who didn’t get a chance to speak to anyone and find a way through the suicidal thoughts.

“There’s a lot of us out there, and sadly there might be a lot more us by the time we’re through this pandemic.

“The thing about talking to someone else who’s had those feelings is that it resonates more.

“I feel that my story – even though it’s horrible – is ultimately a positive one, because I’m still here.

“And the more we talk about suicide the more we can starve it of stigma.”

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