Former South Shields Royal Navy sailor who tried to take his own life opens up as he strives to help others - and tells how his camper van Roxy helped turn his life around
A former Royal Navy sailor who tried to take his own life after suffering mental health problems has opened up on how he turned his life around in a bid to help others – as he prepares for an epic challenge for World Mental Health Day.
Andrew Marshall, 49, from South Shields, said his camper van – named ‘Roxy’ – had played a massive part in his recovery.
Now he hopes to use the van to show people a road back to a positive mind-set as he drives 5,500 miles around the whole coast of the UK to highlight the issue, setting off on Sunday, October 8.
Andrew has just begun a degree in Health and Social Care at the University of Sunderland.
It is a far cry from his former life, first as an aircraft engineer in the Royal Navy, and then as a self-employed financial adviser, but his personal experiences of mental health have led him down a different path.
“In 2018 I reached the lowest point in my life,” said Andrew.
“I had been through years of emotional stress and turmoil and had reached a point that I felt the best thing for everyone would be if I was no longer here. I was so poorly with my mental health that I tried to take my own life.
“Even though I was severely ill with mental health issues, I had still never spoken to anyone about how poorly I was, how I felt or how much I was struggling and how low I actually felt.
"I hadn't sought any kind of help because that's just not what men did.”
Andrew served in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, where his vital role saw him fixing and maintaining Sea King helicopters on front line squadrons operating from the Aircraft Carrier HMS Invincible and the support ship RFA Argus.
And, though his mental health issues came many years later, as his business was hit by recession and his marriage broke down, he admits that one of the biggest issues he faced was tackling the taboo of actually needing outside support.
“Finding yourself suffering from a mental health issues is far more common than you may imagine,” he said.
"It is manageable with the right help, but as a sufferer myself I know how hard it is to ask for help, especially as a man.
"In my case, my age and my background of serving in the Armed Forces, it is a subject that was very taboo.
“Thankfully men’s mental health a subject that is becoming more and more accepted and discussed.
"I learned that early intervention and help will save you from potentially years of unnecessary suffering. It’s also reassuring to know that you are not the only person with these issues.
"Help from people with experience is out there.”
According to the Men's Mental Health Foundation around one in eight UK men has a mental health problem such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Figures show that men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women, yet men are far less likely to access therapy, with only 36% of referrals to the NHS. Suicide is the largest cause of death in men under 50.
How Roxy helped
Thankfully Andrew received the support he needed from ex-forces charity NAAFI Break, and from SSAFA (the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association).
Now he is hoping to repay some of the support he received by raising money for NAAFI and SSAFA and raising the profile of men’s mental health – with the help of Roxy, his campervan.
“When I was very ill I developed severe anxiety linked to anything social or outside of the home including my ability to drive,” says Andrew.
“I couldn't even drive to my support meetings which were less than a mile away.
“So, in 2020 I bought a Ford Transit minibus which I converted into a campervan, which I called Roxy.
"My logic was that when I drove anywhere, if I started to panic I could pull over and stay in Roxy until it passed.
“I’m fully focused on this challenge, because that is what it is going to be, a huge challenge for me. I want to raise awareness of all mental health issues, but, especially men’s mental health because of my own experiences.
"But I also want to raise as much money as possible along the way for these two fantastic charities.”
Andrew said he chose the coastal tour challenge as, being from a seaside town and having served with the Royal Navy, he had ‘always had an affinity with the sea’, so it made sense.
Now Andrew is getting his life firmly back on track, taking on the challenge of travelling the 5,500 miles around the UK coast, but also taking on the longer-term challenge of returning to university, and hopefully one day using what he has experienced to help others.
“Eventually I did reach out and I started receiving help, counselling and support,”
"I’ve started this challenge, and the challenge of coming to university, because I’ve met a lot of very inspirational people who have provided me with support and help, and I decided that I wanted help others.”
You can support Andrew’s coastal challenge, and find out more about the charities he’s supporting, by going to his Just Giving page online at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/andrew-marshall-gb-coastline-in-roxy?utm_term=a8qM73k4G .
:: You don’t have to be suicidal to call Samaritans.
Whatever you’re going through, call them free any time from any phone on 116 123 (this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill), email [email protected], or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch.