A popular headmaster who survived swine flu and then lost his wife to cancer has described how mental health issues led him to take early retirement.
Colin Millar, principal of Killard House School in Donaghadee, said he was bringing the curtain down on a 32-year career in education on medical advice.
The father-of-two told the Belfast Telegraph he was speaking out about his medical problems to raise awareness of a subject he believes will affect a lot of people, especially schoolchildren, in the post-Covid era.
Mr Millar (57), who this week received a special recognition award from Ards and North Down Borough Council for his work in education, said he will not be returning to the classroom this autumn.
"I'd been putting on a brave face," said Mr Millar, whose wife Claire, also a teacher, passed away from breast cancer in 2017, aged 48.
"I was going to pieces. I would come home after work, shaking, lying on the sofa and crying. Then I'd get up the next day, put on my brave face and go back to work.
"After I started collapsing and having blackouts, the consultant came to the conclusion that it was the legacy of two major traumas in a short space of time.
"Firstly the swine flu that nearly killed me in 2014, and then, after Claire's devastating diagnosis, watching her deteriorate before my eyes took its toll.
"Her death rocked my boat completely".
Mr Millar, who has recently moved from the family home to a new house in Newtownards, said he realised he needed to step back from his role as school principal for the sake of sons Conor (25) and Ryan (22).
"I have to remember that I'm all they've got left," he said.
"After swine flu, when I was in a coma for six weeks, and then Claire's passing, I looked liked I was coping. Underneath it all, however, everything was starting to take its toll on my health.
"I was having night terrors and flashbacks. I was shaking, waking up and being sick in the night and I wasn't really eating.
"I had anxiety, I was panicking over decisions and it was all starting to build, yet I kept pushing myself on because I felt I owed it to my boys as well as the children and staff at Killard.
"But, by June 2019, I had started falling in the house and having blackouts - and then one morning I found myself on the bathroom floor.
"I got dressed, went to work, and when I was in a colleague's office she noticed I had a big gash on the back of my head and she sent me straight to hospital."
Mr Millar said he was fitted with a heart monitor amid fears that he may suffer a potential stroke and told to stay off work, initially for six months.
A check-up last February, however, revealed that his blood pressure was not settling and in May he said he was told it would be detrimental to his health if he decided to return to his post.
"It was hard decision to leave a job I loved," he said.
"I'd been doing it for 32 years, and to me it was a vocation. It was a pleasure to go to work in schools and Killard was my baby. It was the job I always wanted."
The Co Down man, who won awards for his work in the special education sector, met the Queen at Hillsborough and was one of the Northern Ireland people at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018.
He said he had made peace with his decision to retire, and that Conor, a dentist based in Scotland, and Ryan, who is about to start his final year at Queen's, believe he has done the right thing.
But Mr Millar does not think the Covid-19 lockdown added to his depression because Ryan was then on a work placement and able to work from home, therefore keeping his dad company.
"Having him with me probably kept me sane," he said.
"The crux of my mental ill-health was me thinking I wasn't being the person I should be.
"I felt I was letting people down, in particular, my poor vulnerable children, but it was all about putting the coping face on.
"I think a lot of people with depression do that. And I think a lot of young people have a lot of mental health issues.
"There isn't the support network there should be in schools. Following the lockdown there will be a lot of issues, as well as children and young people with associated mental health issues because of it, and it's going to be major for schools.
"That's why I'm speaking out about what happened to me. I want people to know it can happen to anybody.
"There's no stigma, it's an illness and you just don't know what life's going to throw at you.
"The important thing is you recognise it in yourself and you ask for help."