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‘I told him that I had depression’: Ilford rugby player speaks out about mental health

PUBLISHED: 07:00 16 October 2017

Carl Anka, 26, is promoting the Time To Change campaign

Carl Anka, 26, is promoting the Time To Change campaign

Archant

Mental illness is a serious struggle for many people and a Gants Hill resident is working hard to have a proper conversation about the taboo topic.

After losing his job around Christmas last year, Carl Anka, 26, says he began to think about killing himself.

Whilst travelling on the Tube, the freelance journalist says he was afraid of looking at the tracks in case he was “compelled to do something.”

Instead, the amateur rugby star picked up the phone and began ringing the Samaritans, who are available 24 hours a day free of charge.

He said: “I couldn’t stop crying. I found simple things like getting dressed, eating well and generally looking after myself a real struggle.

“There were points that I felt so low that I contemplated taking my own life and found it difficult to leave the house.

“Using the London Underground was particularly challenging.

“If I looked at the tracks I was worried that I might be compelled to do something.

“That was when I realised that I couldn’t live like this anymore.

“I had to get help and made an appointment with the doctor.”

And Carl found that he had a supportive network of friends who he could open up to.

He said: “When I told my friends that I had mental health problems they were generally really supportive.

“I play amateur rugby for Ilford Wanderers RFC and drinking is a big part of the rugby culture.

“Because of the antidepressants I take, I choose not to drink. When teammates asked if I wanted a beer I used to make up excuses for not drinking – ranging from ‘Dry January’ to having a heart problem.

“But January came to an end and I was sick of lying and making up excuses.

“So when a teammate asked if I wanted a drink – I told him that I had depression.

“I was really apprehensive about how he was going to respond but he just looked at my can of soft drink and said ‘sorry about that and don’t worry about it.’

Last week, Carl was was among a group of community “champions” praised by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt this week at a national event to mark World Mental Health Day and Time to Change’s tenth anniversary.

Mr Hunt said: “Breaking down stigma around poor mental health is vital - but it can only happen with passionate, engaged people making a stand within their communities and challenging others to change their assumptions.”

In a country where one in four people will experience a common mental health problem, possibly personally, professionally, or through friends and families, Carl said he hasn’t regretted opening up.

He said: “My diagnosis was less “oh this will affect all my life going forward” and more “this makes sense considering the past several years”.

“I try not to think of things as Old Carl and New Carl, but all of it is me.

“That’s not to say I can’t tell the difference between my mental illness and myself, but I am comfortable with my current position.”

Revealing your mental health status may feel awkward but Carl says he approached the situation steadily.

He said: “There was a slow reveal in people I told. I always found there was a hierarchy in male friendships. One big dog, one joker, one organiser etc.

“For a time I was worried about being seen as the mentally ill one, a bit like how men are scared of settling down as they read it as “giving up time” with the boys, which is not true.

“On both counts. I’ve learnt I am who I am and if a friend group doesn’t respond in the way I need to stay healthy then that is ok.”

“Breaking down stigma around poor mental health is vital - but it can only happen with passionate, engaged people making a stand within their communities and challenging others to change their assumptions.”


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