London 999 call handler urges men to speak up about their mental health this winter

 (London Ambulance Service)
(London Ambulance Service)

A London 999 call handler has urged men to speak up about their mental health struggle this winter as he opened up about his battle with bipolar disorder.

Scott Robertson, 33, who has worked as an LAS emergency call coordinator since 2019, said too many men felt a sense of “shame” around expressing themselves.

He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder four years ago but has suffered from poor mental health since his adolescence, when he experienced bullying at school.

As a call handler, Mr Robertson witnesses the mental health struggles of Londoners first hand and says many men he speaks to often struggle to share their pain directly.

“When men call in a mental health crisis they don’t often say that, their words are ‘I’m not feeling well’. I often have to tease it out of them and give them the space to talk,” he told the Standard.

“But once they do they feel so much better. For some men there is a perception of shame around discussing their feelings.”

Mr Robertson said he could empathise with the stigma many men feel, as he initially did not want to share his diagnosis of bipolar disorder with friends and the public.

“When I was diagnosed it was like suddenly there was a barrier in front of me there hadn’t been before. I swore my husband to complete secrecy and said I don’t want anyone to know. I was worried I’d be seen as less of a man and not taken seriously.

“If I expressed feelings or an opinion, I was worried they would be seen as ‘symptoms’ rather than ‘feelings’.”

From September 2021 to August 2022, nearly 186,000 calls with a potential mental health element were made to London Ambulance Service, 86,758 of which were from male patients.

Over the past year, our staff and volunteers attended 18,735 call-outs to patients with suicidal symptoms or having attempted suicide, and 9,028 of these incidents involved a male patient.

Mr Robertson said that his condition could often help him to empathise with patients suffering from mental health issues.

“The knowledge that I’ve been there in that type of situation certainly helps me. I want to help those patients the way that I would want to be helped.”

He credits the support of both his husband and the “phenomenal” support he gets from the London Ambulance Service with helping him to manage his condition.

To mark Male Mental Health month, Mr Robertson urged men to speak up if they are feeling low - and check in with their friends regularly.

“Don’t ‘man up’, get help! If you have a support network – a group of trusted friends or family, then give them a chance. Sometimes you write people off thinking that they’re not going to understand. But I’ve found that the minute you open up, people do want to understand and want to support you,” he said.

“The more we open up, the more we discuss mental health, the more we empower those around us to do the same and support each other.”