Emmerdale’s script advisor on how charity saved him from suicide
After the suicide attempt of one of Emmerdale’s most beloved and long-lived characters, Paddy Kirk, the producers hope to shed light on tens of thousands of British men struggling with their mental health. The series airs its first 60-minute all-male episode this Friday, in which Paddy, played by Dominic Brant, tells his friends about his feelings after weeks of trying to hide his depression.
It’s hoped that the episode featuring the lockdown in The Woolpack will help inspire regular guys to talk more about their struggles rather than let them fester.
More than 6,300 suicides were reported in the UK in 2021, with men in England and Wales three times more likely to commit suicide than women, according to the National Statistics Office.
One person for whom talking about depression was literally a life-saver is former high school chef Neil Wayne, who advised Emmerdale’s producers on a tragic storyline.
Eagerly admitting that he would have been “dead, divorced or both” had he not sought specialist help, Neil, who lives with his wife Tracey in Bradford, West Yorkshire, recounts how he got to a dark place.
“I felt like I had no purpose anymore,” admits the 49-year-old, who was helped by Andy’s Man Club, a suicide prevention charity for men. “I felt like I was done. Fortunately, they helped me, but if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be sitting and talking right now.”
Neil’s life took a turn for the worse ten years ago after a botched operation to repair torn ligaments in his ankle that was supposed to be routine surgery.
Unable to continue working at a school in Sheffield and in great pain, he spent the next few years undergoing one operation after another to fix the problem.
All to no avail, and Neil was eventually registered as disabled. He soon found himself sinking more and more into a deep depression.
“I was in this endless loop of waiting for transaction letters,” he says. “I wasn’t working and I didn’t have clarity anymore. It was all-consuming.”
Instead of sharing his feelings with Tracy, 39, the salon owner and teacher he married in 2013, like so many others struggling with their mental health, he hid behind a mask.
“I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone,” he says. “I felt embarrassed and my pride woke up. Looking back, I must have been such a miserable person to live with. Instead of telling my wife how I feel, I would start an argument. It sounds strange, but it was my survival mechanism.”
Unfortunately, even when Neal, who pretended to pay monthly mortgage payments, lost his car and house in 2015, he says he still couldn’t get out of the dark hole.
“I told my wife what I had done, that I had lost everything and that I was very sorry,” he continues. “We moved out the day before the bailiffs arrived and rented a house from my relatives, but even the loss of the house did not bother me because I felt so distant.
“I know my wife was so worried about me, but I was completely consumed by my own world.”
In his lowest state and having rejected his wife’s offer of help, he spent three more years in a “very gloomy place”. Then one night in 2018, things took an even darker turn.
“I already had quite a few moments where I thought how easy it would be to handle everything.”
He pauses before continuing, “I took quite a few pills one night.”
Luckily, he stopped himself before it was too late. “I don’t know if it was the fear of letting people down, but I stopped,” he says. “I didn’t tell my wife what happened, but a few days later we had another argument, and suddenly I collapsed on the stairs.
“I told her, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ In the end, she convinced me that I needed help.”
Soon after, he found out about Andy’s men’s club. A charity dedicated to helping men with depression was launched in 2016 in memory of 23-year-old Andy Roberts from Halifax, who committed suicide. Before he died, he gave no prior indication that anything was wrong.
Realizing that men have nowhere to talk about their feelings, Andy’s family organized a free weekly club for men.
Confidentially, it was a resounding success and there are now 118 Andy’s Men’s Clubs across Britain, meeting every Monday night at 7pm.
“I will always remember the first day I walked in,” Neal says. “It was September 10, 2018, World Suicide Prevention Day. They probably didn’t know they were preventing suicide when I went in there.”
He admits that he hated his first experience. “I didn’t speak and I was wondering what I was doing. When I got home, I continued to act, telling my wife that I had a great time. And for the next three weeks, I did the same.”
But in the fourth week, he finally opened up. “And since then I haven’t stopped talking,” he smiles. Being able to connect with other men struggling with mental health in a private setting helped a lot. “I made friends and it was great to be able to connect with others.”
Six months later, Neil received a call from Andy’s Man Club in Huddersfield asking if he would be willing to lead the local support group.
“On the way home, I cried with happiness,” he recalls.
“They told me they knew I could help others. It was unrealistic for other people to notice that I was an asset. I felt like I was back in the room.”
It was a huge turning point in his life. Neil then volunteered for a charity, raising money and helping a homeless center in Huddersfield.
Soon after, he found work, first in customer service and later in charitable giving. “I don’t think they realize how much I valued them,” Neal adds of the companies he has worked for. “They also helped save my life.” In January 2021, he began working full-time at Andy’s Man Club as a project development champion.
“I love going out and meeting businesses and getting them involved in our work,” he says enthusiastically. “I have a purpose and I enjoy helping others by giving them the same opportunities that I have.
“Andy’s Men’s Club gives men the opportunity to talk and feel safe, and also allows men to open up.”
Praising Emmerdale’s producers and actor Dominic Brant for playing Paddy in the complex storyline, Neal says they all worked incredibly hard to capture the right emotions.
“Dominik has taken his research to the next level,” he adds. “What was important to me is that there is a positive outcome, namely there is help, such as Andy’s Man Club. With the release of an all-male series this week, Emmerdale is doing something groundbreaking.
“I implore anyone reading this or watching Emmerdale and feeling in the dark to visit Andy’s men’s club. This is the best door you could ever walk through. It will change your life.” Brant himself said he was “very honored and honored” to be able to bring such an important storyline to the small screen.
“I hope as many people as possible see it,” the actor added. “I think we have the perfect medium in soap to give this subject a platform.
“Hopefully we’ve told the story as clearly as possible because every situation is unique; every person who goes through this is unique. They have their own set of circumstances that brought them to this pinnacle of depression and I hope we’ve told Paddy’s story as clearly as possible.”
Neil says that, fortunately, he now rarely has dark moments, and he remains constantly grateful for the incredible support his wife has given him. “You look back with different eyes,” he explains. “They are no longer dark eyes in which no light can be seen. I’m lucky and I’m happy. I am returning home to a wife who loves me and who I know is a very special person. I treasure it.”
- Help is available at andysmanclub.co.uk. There is also a 24-hour Samaritan hotline: 116 123.
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