Opening up about your mental health problems is not always easy and men often find it harder to talk about their struggles than women. Outdated stereotypes of what it means to be a man can be harmful and make it less likely for men to seek help.
Brain injury survivors are particularly vulnerable to developing mental health problems, with half of all survivors experiencing depression in the first year following their injury.
BMX biker, Sam Hulse, is sharing his story of brain injury and mental health in an effort to raise awareness of the issue, and encourage more men to talk openly about their problems.
31-year-old Sam lives in Southport with his fiancée and their three dogs, ten chickens and a pig. As a keen BMX rider Sam is regularly out performing adrenaline-inducing jumps, tricks and spins on his bike.
However, back in March 2015, one of Sam’s tricks went wrong, causing him to fall down an eight foot drop and hit his head on the concrete floor below.
Unfortunately, Sam wasn’t wearing a helmet at the time - a decision he now regrets.
Speaking about the accident, Sam said: “I fell off the back of the bike and my head was the first point of contact with the ground. There was no way to brace myself for impact and my head took the full force of the blow.”
Sam was immediately taken to hospital with blood coming out of his nose and ears. Scans showed that the strength of the impact had caused a fracture to his skull, leading to minor haemorrhaging and air on the side of his brain.
In the weeks following his accident Sam realised that his sense of taste and smell had altered dramatically. This was due to a severed nerve connecting the nose to the brain.
“Everything had a chemical or sewage type odour and taste,” said Sam. “Eating became hard work and usually involved my sitting at the table with a clothes peg on my nose to avoid the smell. Yes, it was that bad!”
Sam also experienced memory problems and headaches. However, the hardest thing for Sam to adjust to was the impact the accident had on his mental health, even months later.
I started to suffer mental health issues – depression, anger, frustration and a huge lack of motivation in day-to-day life became the norm.
Sam found himself retreating from the people he loved and both his personal and work life were impacted. He had even lost all motivation to pursue the thing he once loved – BMX riding.
“I found it very hard to socialise and motivate myself even with the thing I had so much time, love and passion for.
“I couldn’t control my feelings and found myself losing my temper over the smallest of things, as if they meant the end of the world. I felt isolated from everyone around me.
“People started to distance themselves because I was anti-social, moody and rude. Even close family couldn’t see the pain I was going through.”
The physical signs of Sam’s accident had long since disappeared, and he found it hard to connect his mental health struggles with the injury. He bottled up his feelings, until one evening everything became too much.
Recalling this time, Sam said: “I couldn’t bottle up my feelings any longer. I broke down in front of my partner. This was the first time she had seen the pain that I was in day-to-day and how much I was struggling.
Opening up to her and showing the most vulnerable side of me was the scariest thing I have ever done.
From that moment, things started to get better for Sam and, with the support of his family, he was able to begin addressing his mental health needs.
“A weight had finally been lifted,” said Sam. “With my partner’s help and support, I got to see the right people, starting with my local doctor.”
Thankfully, Sam’s mental health problems are now improving. Something he credits with taking the steps to open up.
It’s so important to speak out. When I did, I realised I wasn’t alone and others have overcome the same challenges.
“It’s the scariest thing in the world – opening up to someone and showing your most vulnerable side, but it’s the best place to start.
“Although I still have the occasional down days, I find that just being back on my bike is the best motivational tool I have at my fingertips. There isn’t a more freeing moment from your own mind and life’s problems than just rolling round the streets on my bike... With a helmet on, of course!”
For many people, the overlap between brain injury and mental health issues can be confusing. The effects of brain injury can often be very similar, or the same, as those of a mental health condition, leading to misdiagnosis and referrals to inappropriate services. It's not surprising that people with a brain injury, their family members, friends, colleagues and even doctors can struggle to recognise and deal with mental health after brain injury.
For more information download our factsheet Mental health and brain injury.
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