It took until his late 50s for Thomas Sullivan to begin feeling anxious and isolated – but the seeds of his mental health issue were sown nearly 30 years before.
It wasn’t until he sought help and was flooded with memories of one of the worst days in history that he realised what was causing it.
Tom, from Huyton, was experiencing flashbacks and survivor’s guilt after having survived at Hillsborough on April 15, 1989.
He said: “I didn’t know what was going on.
“I was just down and I was isolating myself. I wasn’t doing anything that I used to like golf and going the match and that type of stuff.
At first the 60-year-old assumed his low mood was being caused by work-related stress. He even ended up turning to alcohol to drown his bad feelings.
Even counselling didn’t seem to help.
He said: “At that time Hillsborough was all over the news, because of the court cases. The treatment pinpointed a lot of it back to that.
“I had flashbacks of the ground and stuff like that – helping people. And then I started feeling guilty.
“I went with lads who I had known all my life, there were 12 of us.”
The EMDR began to help Tom with the memories he’d pushed to the back of his mind,and he also began attending Change Grow Live (CGL) in Huyton to help him abstain from alcohol.
Although the treatment has really helped him, he still understandably finds Hillsborough difficult to talk about.
He said: “When I went to counselling they said ‘Tommy you’re shielding everything’.
“I found myself just talking in CGL because people were the same and they understood. When I walked through the doors of CGL it just changed how I looked at things.”
While at the group and later volunteering, Tommy met Michael Fielding MBE, known as ‘Tosh’, who is managing director of Flourish & Succeed CIC, a community interest company based in Stockbridge Village.
Tosh, along with Knowsley Council leader Graham Morgan, helped him start his own men’s group, using his experiences to help others in the area also suffering with their mental health.
In August 2019, the Flourish & Succeed community Men’s Hive group was officially launched and takes place at Knowsley Leisure and Culture Park on Longview Drive, Huyton, every Wednesday between 6pm and 7.30pm.
Welcoming men from all ages and backgrounds, the group aims to boost the health and wellbeing of its members, through courses, going for coastal walks or even just having a simple conversation.
Tom said: “‘I knew how hard it was for me to walk through a door. For some people, it can feel intimidating. It’s just that first step.
“The group is not just about mental health or addiction, it’s just a group where men can come in and feel comfortable and if they don’t want to talk they can just listen.
“Coming to the group actually helps me and it helps them too.”
Tosh said Tom’s group is helping men overcome the stigma of talking about their problems.
He said: “Without Tommy and the support he gives to the men in the group, it wouldn’t tick over the way it does.
“It’s just amazing that men have been walking through here, trying to break that stigma and get men to open up and talk about their problems.
“We believe that we’re all recovering from something. It doesn’t have to be alcohol and drugs, it can also be through bereavement, loss and isolation.
“We all know about suicide in men being the biggest killer under 45 and hopefully groups like this can get men talking about their real issues and not go back to the old ways with the old saying ‘man up’.”
Tom said the support from his family and the wider community has been incredible.
He said: “I know what it’s like to have anxiety, when you don’t want to do anything or you have depression and feel low, and it takes you days to do anything.
“I don’t push people to come. I just say come when you’re ready. I needed that push to get up and do it and now I’m doing it.”
Colin Phillips, 55, said that although the group has only been running for a short amount of time, it has helped him a lot and his family can see a change in him.
He said: “When you go to groups you think you’re the only one sitting there, really depressed.
“But there’s loads of people in the same boat. You start thinking I’m not the only one.
“I just love it, I really like it.”