999 call handler who suffers from bipolar disorder encourages men in London to ‘open up’ and check on their friends this winter

Scott Robertson, 33, who has served as emergency call coordinator for the Arab League since 2019, said many of the men felt “shamed” about expressing themselves.

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

As a call therapist, Mr Robertson witnesses Londoners’ mental health struggles firsthand, and says many of the men he speaks with often struggle to share their pain firsthand.

“When men call out a mental health crisis, oftentimes they don’t say it, their words are ‘I’m not feeling well.’ I often have to elicit it from them and give them space to speak up,” he told the magazine.

“But once they do that they feel so much better. For some men, there is a feeling of shyness about discussing their feelings.”

Robertson said he could sympathize with the stigma many men feel, because at first he didn’t want to share his bipolar disorder diagnosis with friends and the public.

“When I was diagnosed, it seemed like suddenly there was a barrier in front of me that there wasn’t before. I swore to my husband to keep it a secret and said I didn’t want anyone to know. I was worried I would be seen as less of a man and not taken seriously.”

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

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

Over the past year, our staff and volunteers attended 18,735 phone calls of patients who had suicidal symptoms or attempted suicide, and 9,028 of these incidents involved a male patient.

Robertson said his condition can often help him empathize with patients with mental health issues.

“Knowing that I was there in that kind of situation definitely helps me. I want to help these patients the way I want to.”

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

Marking Male Mental Health Month, Mr Robertson urged men to speak up if they’re feeling low – and to reach out to their friends regularly.

“No ‘man’, get help! If you have a support network—a group of trusted friends or family, give them a chance. Sometimes you write off people thinking they won’t understand. But I’ve found that the minute you open up, people want to understand you.” And they 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 one another.”


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