Today [Sunday, October 10] is World Mental Health Day, and the theme for this year, as set by the World Federation for Mental Health, is Mental Health in an Unequal World.

Mental health problems are common, with one in four of us experiencing them during our lifetime.

However, there is often a stigma around mental health, which can make people feel uncomfortable talking about it or seeking help.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, Scotland is facing a mental health crisis after months of isolation and situations of stress and inequalities.

Services are pushed to the brink whilst some who manage to get access to describe the access as a ‘postcode lottery'.

Tommy Kelly from Dalry has been volunteering with the Mental Health advocacy group See Me Scotland since 2016.

Having experienced his own mental health problems that manifested as an eating disorder, he knows first hand of the difficulties people in Ayrshire face with access and support.

He explained: “During the pandemic, the self-stigma of people struggling with mental health has gone up, because people feel guilty about struggling with everything that has went on.

“It is difficult in Scotland, there is that stigma and discrimination, even in workplaces and in education settings, and even health and social care settings.

“Trying to get the help you need, sadly, a bit of a postcode lottery.

“You go to the doctors, that should always be your first port of call, but usually the waiting lists are sometimes up to a year or more, because you can actually get the help.

“The services in Ayrshire are so spaced out that there are only a few nurses to cover everybody who needs it.

“It’s just your luck if you can get the help you really need.

“We need funding and we need support.”

The 41-year-old has a 20 year history of mental health issues. He started experiencing an eating disorder in 1997 when his mum died from cancer. The illness had a huge effect on his life and forced him to give up on his football career.

He continued: “It began in 1997. I was a semi-professional footballer at the time, I was playing for Scotland Under 16s and had trials for Greenock Morton.

“My eating disorder got really bad for three years, from 1997-2000, and I suffered a massive heart attack, I was in a coma for three months.

“It took that serious incident for me to get the diagnosis for having an eating disorder.”

His story didn’t end there, after a series of events where loved ones got seriously ill, and Tommy had to assumed a caring responsibility, it would be a decade later that he realised he needed to look after himself as well.

He said: “I thought I had fully recovered, then over the last few years from 2002, I met my wife and got married. In 2006, she suffered ovarian cancer, and had a relapse around that point as well.

“I never really got myself any better, because then my dad got ill, with type one diabetes, and he ended up having a stroke,was paralysed down the right side of his body, and had a leg amputated.

“Me and my wife were caring for him, then he passed away in 2014.

“Something clicked around that time, I realised I had to get myself better for myself and for the memories of my family.”

“And I decided to speak out about things as well, because at that time, there weren’t many males speaking about eating disorders - or even mental health in general back then.”

Eating disorders are offend considered a ‘female’ illness, but Tommy believes it is common with men too, often manifesting in a exercise addition - where he would use his football training to justify exercising for 12-15 hours a day.

He continued: “There is a stigma that men should toughen up and get on with it.

“They can think it is a sign of weakness, where actually speaking about your problems is actually the biggest part about taking back control of all these things.

“Mental health problems thrive on isolation and secrecy, so by talking about it, it can be the first step to getting yourself the help that you need, preferably an early intervention.”

When Tommy looks back he believes that he experienced OCD. He used to excessively wash himself and his clothes. His eating disorder specialist said that the OCD was one of the things that contributed to his eating disorder.

Tommy has been called an attention seeker by a couple of people, primarily on social media.

He said: “It was silly things but you take it to heart and it isn’t good for your health.”

Tommy thinks this comes from a lack of understanding. He sees that people generally associate eating disorders with females, and believes this makes it harder for men to speak out and get help. He has also found a lack of support networks for men.

Tommy said: “I don’t think GPs take men and eating disorders seriously, it is left to a point where you have to be hospitalised until someone will take your seriously. You need help right at the start to recover.

“It’s important that people realise you don’t do this to yourself it is an illness just like cancer or anything else. People need to realise that others need help.”

After years of recovery, Tommy now feels his mental health is the best it’s been in many years.

He added: “I’m firmly in recovery and loving life again, which I thought I’d never say again.

“I’ve faced discrimination regards my eating disorder that I must be a drug addict, or people think it’s linked to sexuality, as some people just don’t understand that it affects all demographics of people.

“I’m passionate about challenging discrimination around the belief that mental illness means you are a lesser person and lesser worth to society, and that if you are male that you should just toughen up.

“This is what withdraws people into their illness, and prevents them seeking much-needed intervention. We need to understand it’s okay not to be okay sometimes, and that strength is in accepting your problems and accepting help.”