“Don’t ‘man up’, get help!” – 999 call handler opens up about mental health struggle as he appeals for men to seek support
A London Ambulance Service (LAS) emergency call handler is urging men to seek mental health support as soon as they realise something is wrong, and not shy away from having that conversation with their loved ones.
Scott Robertson, 33, who has worked as an LAS emergency call coordinator since 2019, made the appeal to mark Men’s Mental Health Month this November.
Scott was diagnosed with bipolar disorder four years ago but has suffered from poor mental health since his adolescence.
Living with bipolar disorder means his life can be affected by extreme mood swings, and without the appropriate medical and psychological approach, he can face periods of severe emotional highs and lows.
He said: “Living with bipolar almost feels like my mood is under a magnifying glass. I take medications to keep my mood stable, but there are periods in which my mental health can deteriorate.
“Just a couple of months ago, I had a depressive episode and had to take some time off work and throw myself into my support network, which includes my husband, brother, and manager.”
With calls to 999 often being the first point of care for those in a mental health crisis, Scott is witness to the mental health struggles of many Londoners. From September 2021 to August 2022, nearly 186,000 calls with a potential mental health element were made to London Ambulance Service, 86,758 of which were from male patients.* Over the past year, our staff and volunteers attended 18,735 call-outs to patients with suicidal symptoms or having attempted suicide, and 9,028 of these incidents involved a male patient.**
Scott fears that the number of men in London suffering from mental health conditions is higher than LAS figures may depict.
“Societal pressures can put men off from calling for help, he said.
“I felt a sense of shame when confessing my mental health condition, because I felt the pressure to ‘man up’ and meet the standard of what a man should be.
“When I was diagnosed with bipolar I became very secretive about it. I was ashamed of the diagnosis and I didn’t want anyone to know about it. I swore the people around me to secrecy, Scott continued.
“As a gay man, I felt a bit excluded from typical ideas of masculinity. Being then diagnosed with a mental health condition made me fear that I wouldn’t be taken as seriously as a straight, healthy man.”
But Scott’s battle with mental health, which has marked over half of his life, now acts as an inspiration to better empathise with patients who are at crisis point.
He said: “I experience those crises myself and I know the desperation that you can feel in those situations, so I’m not frightened to have those conversations with patients.
“If someone calls 999, they want to reach out and talk about the problem. When they don’t, they’re quick enough to tell you and you change the subject as necessary.”
Having battled with low mood for a large part of his life, Scott wants to normalise the debate around mental health, especially amongst men, who can face stigma when opening up.
Scott’s advice is straightforward: “Don’t ‘man up’, get help! If you have a support network – a group of trusted friends or family, then give them a chance. Sometimes you write people off thinking that they’re not going to understand. But I’ve found that the minute you open up, people do want to understand and want to support you.
“The more we open up, the more we discuss mental health, the more we empower those around us to do the same and support each other.”
If you are having suicidal thoughts, thoughts of harming yourself or others, or if you do not feel you can keep yourself and someone else safe call 999 or go to A&E now.
If you need help urgently for your mental health, but it’s not an emergency call 111 or use NHS 111 online service.
If you are experiencing symptoms such as low mood, anxiety, and depression call 111 or speak to your GP.
To access more mental health services, visit www.nhs.uk/nhs-services/mental-health-services/.
Your mental health is as important as your physical health. You will not be wasting anyone’s time.