Belfast Telegraph

Tragic Dean's death spurs barber Harry to open up on video about mental health

By Victoria Leonard

A Co Antrim barber who once contemplated suicide has released an emotional video revealing how he turned his life around, in the wake of the death of Carnmoney man Dean McIlwaine.

In a video which has been viewed over 32,000 times on social media, Greenisland man Harry Preshur (37) candidly explains how, with the help of Lifeline and other support services, he went from considering whether to end his life to becoming a business owner and father of four.

Harry, who studied barbering in the year below Dean at Belfast Metropolitan College (BMC), is urging other young men experiencing mental health problems to "open up" and seek help.

Tragic Dean (22) was found dead at Belfast's Cavehill on July 22 after volunteers had combed the local area for nine days in the hope of finding him alive.

"Dean was in the year above me at BMC and I would have chatted to him and asked his advice," Harry told the Belfast Telegraph.

"He knew where he was going in life, he was so clued in. I was gutted for his family when they found him.

"I think there is still a masculine thing where men tend to bottle up their problems. In my case, it started about 12 years ago when I suffered a brain injury.

"The hospital offered to send me to rehab, but my partner was about to give birth and I headed back to work as I felt I had to provide for my children.

"Everything was great for five or six years, but when the recession hit I lost my warehouse job and had nothing to focus on.

"I remember sitting outside the dole office one day in my car and I broke down in tears. I contemplated suicide, but then I thought of my kids.

"When I got home I phoned Lifeline and started having weekly counselling.

"They gave me different ways of looking at things and I started to come round. I went to my doctor, who diagnosed me with depression and anxiety and referred me to the mental health team at Whiteabbey Hospital.

"We did group sessions, which taught me to recognise the signs that I need to do something. Throughout it all I had the support of my partner Shelley, who is my rock, and our kids."

Harry then decided to return to college to study barbering and, after graduating in 2016, honed his craft in barber shop jobs and placements.

In March, the opportunity to take over a barber shop in Greenisland arose and he grabbed it with both hands.

"Five years ago I couldn't do anything, I was even petrified to go into Tesco," he said.

"If I saw anyone I knew I would have avoided them, I couldn't remember people's names due to my brain injury and I was having panic attacks.

"I used to be unable to go out my front door, now I'm standing talking to complete stranger s in Harry's Barber Shop. It makes me feel brilliant, it's something I am proud to tell my kids.

"It's unbelievable how far I've come. I will never beat depression, but I can recognise it and cope with it."

After Dean's death and, in light of the high suicide rate among young men in Northern Ireland, Harry bared his soul on social media in the hopes of showing that there is "light at the end of the tunnel".

"There's still a stigma around men's mental health and in the wake of the video I have had a lot of people message me to thank me for sharing it as they are going through the same thing," he added.

"I was expecting about 30 people to see my video, but it has been viewed 32,000 times - it's just crazy.

"There aren't many places where men can go to talk, but in a barber shop you are talking one-to-one, so it is almost a form of talking therapy.

"I think more needs to be done to address men's mental health here, and places like barber's shops are a good place to start.

"The message I would give to other people in this situation is: 'Don't give up'. Open up to an organisation like Lifeline, your family or friends - there is always someone there to help."

Lifeline's free 24-hour helpline can be contacted on 0808 808 8000

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