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Derry Alliance councillor Phillip McKinney opens up about mental health

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Alliance councillor Philip McKinney

Alliance councillor Philip McKinney

Alliance councillor Philip McKinney

An Alliance Party councillor in Londonderry has spoken out about his decades-long mental health battle in a bid to help others navigating the darkness.

Derry City and Strabane District councillor Phillip McKinney, who has two grown up children, a son and a stepson with his second wife Heather, says he battled for years against depression brought on by witnessing the aftermath of the La Mon bombing in 1978.

His depression got so bad he attempted to end his life.

The 61-year-old says he wants to end the stigma surrounding mental health so that other people will seek help earlier.

"When I look back now I realise my mental health issues started around secondary school," he said. "I was bullied quite a bit. And that set me back a bit.

"When I left school I worked in the shipyard in Belfast before joining the RUC Reserve.

"I was just 18 years old. I wasn't long in when the La Mon bombing happened.

"I was sent up there that night and what I saw was very upsetting. People were badly burned.

"I saw people coming in to identify what was left of their loved ones and the ambulances bringing the bodies away.

"It was horrific to see that as a teenager. It really set me back.

"At the time I just got on with it. I had a stiff upper lip, it was part of the job.

"You joined up, you took the shilling and you took what happened.

"A few weeks later I was at my friends house having a drink and I just broke down. My father had to come and get me.

"Looking back now there was something wrong there at that point."

Phillip left the RUC and joined the Army. He was posted to Colchester in Essex where he says he reached his lowest ebb.

"It was a lonely existence," he said. "A lot of the boys lived locally and went home on leave.

"I couldn't because I was from Belfast so I would just stay there and drink.

"One night I was drinking heavily and got to the point where I just had enough. I tried to take my own life.

"Luckily my friends had followed me and pulled me back from the brink.

"I was sent to the Army hospital and put on tablets for two weeks. The medication didn't really help."

Phillip was discharged and after several months he was posted to the Falklands before leaving the Army and becoming a lorry driver.

He describes the depression that has plagued his life as a 'black dog' that would come over him. "Just after my youngest son was born I took a bad bout of depression," he said.

"I couldn't get out of bed, I thought the whole world was against me, I couldn't have been bothered with anything.

"It got really bad, I basically had a breakdown. I'm lucky that my wife is a really good listener and she persuaded me to go to my GP who sent me to counselling which has really helped me."

Phillip says that he hopes the stigma around mental health can be smashed.

He has this advice for others on the same dark path as he was. "I would say for them not to climb into bed and pull the covers over you," he said.

"Get out, go and speak to friends, go and speak to a GP and a counsellor.

"They will both help you, but you also need to help yourself. There is plenty of help out there if you want it.

"There is still a stigma with mental health, especially with men.

"It's different if someone is in a hospital bed for two weeks and they come out. People ask them how they are doing," the councillor added.

"When someone is suffering with mental health issues they don't.

"We need to get rid of the stigma and treat it as a proper health problem.

"And we need to start tackling it at an early age.

"We need to put more health resources into suicidal prevention and into mental health, starting in our schools."

If you are in distress you can call the Samaritans on 116123 or Lifeline on 0808 808 8000

Belfast Telegraph