In this episode, Caleb is joined by Josh Hartley to talk about his experiences with depression at college and university. They also discussed Josh's new book, The Boy Between: A Mother and Son's Journey From a World Gone Grey, which he co-authored with his mother and best-selling author, Amanda Prowse.
Content Warning: This episode contains discussion of suicide, depression & alcoholism.
Relevant resources to these subjects can be found below.
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Further resources can be found below.
A Boy Between: A Mother and Son's Journey From a World Gone Grey is available as a paperback, audiobook and on Kindle. The book can be found here.
Hello, and welcome to changing mentality, a men's mental health podcast created in association with student minds.I'm Caleb and in this episode I'm joined by Josh Hartley,former university student here to talk about his experiences with depression as a student,and about his new book, The boy between, A Mother and Son's Journey From a World Gone Grey.This episode deals with subjects like depression, alcoholism, and suicide. Links can be found in the description below the services, if any of these subjects are distressing to you enjoy the episode. Just to start, I guess what was what inspired you to start writing the book? Well, weJosh Hartley:
never wanted to write the book. It's, as a mom says the book she wish she never had to write. But then we sort of reached a point where if depression, if you've ever known someone or lived with someone with depression, it's, it's in every room of the house, you can't really escape it. And when we got to a point where I, no progress was being made from my perspective, and I was acutely aware of how it was affecting my parents lives at that time. And I knew I sort of really had to get better for them, as well as myself. And my mom sent me an email actually saying, How can I help you today? And I replied,open a window, change, change my bedding and get me a cup of tea,maybe something to eat? And she replied, oh, what, like you're ill. And I replied, I am your mum, it's. And I think that's sort of shock to initially because it's so easy to separate mental and physical health, when it's, you know, mean to look at things as just a holistic whole.Rather than doing that. And after these emails back and forth, we had about 20,000 words in this email chain. And one of mom's editors came down to the house to look at a different book. And she said, there's a book here, this could this could really sort of open up the dialogue slightly and help people. So we sort of went from there.Caleb:
So I guess going back to sort of your initial experiences of, of depression, and when when did that start? Or when did you start sort of noticing that it was depression?Josh Hartley:
Well, that's the thing, partly just ignorance around mental health in general,and particularly depression.Looking back, I had my first depressive episode when I was in sixth form at school. But at the time, I didn't know that I didn't know what was happening to me. I thought my brain was just broken in some way. And I'm not really sure why. And initially, I thought I'd done something to deserve to feel this way. I thought I'd done something so big and so bad,that this was feeling this way was my punishment, when of course, that wasn't the case. I was I was ill, I just didn't know whatCaleb:
was it? Was it something in particular that you thought you'd done? Or was it more just the fact of I deserve to feel this way?Josh Hartley:
It was more like,I just deserve to feel this way.There was no, there's a speaking psychologists like there's no one thing. There's no one event?Why I feel this way. There was no, you know, no trigger is unfortunately, just think a genetic disposition to it.Really.Caleb:
Do you think there's more awareness? Now? Obviously, it's it's, um, how many years? Is it since you're in college since you first experience?Josh Hartley:
Six years? Do you think that sort of what what do you make of like progress that's been made? If you see that there is any, as far as sort of depression being normalised or solved? Yeah.Josh Hartley:
Yeah, absolutely.The progress is slow and steady,but it's definitely getting there. I think one thing is when I, when you start the dialogue,it's funny how many people come out of the woodwork. And if you say, oh, I've depressed it's, a lot of people say, Oh, I'm depressed or or my brother's depressed, or I know someone is depressed, but not a lot of people are willing to start that dialogue, you tend to have to be the one to ask how, how they're doing rather than they will come to you. And I think that just comes from a point of We don't expect other people to care as young men. You know, it's we,you know, I hate the phrase man up, it's just such a, you know,a wider part of toxic masculinity, how we expect, you know, just that pressure on on a societal pressure on a on a young man, that makes us feel like we have to bottle things up more.Caleb:
Yeah. Do you think that I mean, obviously, that is still around to quite a high degree,what do you think it has sort of improved? You know, there's a lot of sort of mental health campaigns and things on television that have sort of raised awareness of like, you know, men can suffer from from this I can sort of have experiences with, with depression.Josh Hartley:
Yeah, absolutely.So many campaigns out there,that are making a difference and are helping open the dialogue. I know that when I was in my first year university, I felt like I was the only one suffering in this way. I felt it felt like an extraordinarily unique suffering when the reality is unfortunately, that's not the case. There realistically,multiple people in my halls,suffering in the exact same way I was. And I think if I'd have felt able to, to speak to my peers openly, honestly about what's happened to me, it would have it would have made a big difference. But that just didn't feel like an option to me at that time. But that Yeah, again,partly just my own ignorance around depression.Caleb:
Yeah. Speaking about University what was that initially like? Like? For me,it's a couple of years ago, when I first started, what was that initial sort of adjustment period, like, you know, you've moved into your holes, you meet new people, you live with people you've never met, what was that initial sort of couple of weeks like for you?Josh Hartley:
I went to two universities. But the first one when I was 18, I thought I remember getting out the car.And people were clearly never,never met before meeting up to go for drinks, or, you know, a beer in the car that night, that sort of thing. And I just felt like I couldn't do that. I wasn't mentally prepared and strong enough to go approach strangers at that time, because I felt so isolated with what was going on with me, and I didn't fully understand it. So I thought, you know, I just thought something was wrong with me, and that no one would kind of quite understand this, you know, understand what what that was. So I sort of isolated myself for a couple of days,when I first got to university,and I just couldn't leave my room, and then sort of heavy drinking over those initial couple of weeks, which is what a lot of people expect. That's normal university life. But for me, it was a bit bit more than that it was getting blackout drunk almost every day. And it was the only way I was sort of interacting with people at the start was going to the odd lecture. But apart from that, it was my only social interaction was was drinking.Caleb:
Do you think there's like, I'm thinking back to like,when I started University, and it is exactly that, like everyone is sort of out more or less every night. Do you think it's, I mean, I would say it's definitely normalised to sort of be in a state, which is more than just, you know, indulging or enjoying, it's, you know, do you think that's something that you sort of came across for your, for your own experience?Josh Hartley:
Yeah, absolutely.And that's, if everyone's safe,that's okay. But it's when someone's struggling anyway. And that becomes sort of a welcome release, and not the normal fun thing to do. Because for me, it was a it was a break from my illness. When you're blackout drunk, you don't know what's anything that's going on. So it for me was I wasn't ill when I was blackout drunk, because there wasn't anything but it that was far from from normal,normal drinking. And I certainly wasn't safe on a lot of those nights. And I think as long as it stays in the boundaries of normal student life, and you know, you've got a bit of a safety net with your friends around you, I think, I think it's, it's okay.Caleb:
Obviously, you talk about when you first got to uni, and you got all the car and you sort of saw how everyone else was sort of interacting. I mean, the the initial change like location and people that you're with and everything did, looking back,was there anything in the lead up to going to university that maybe was, I don't know, I guess, a red flag, for lack of a better way of putting it?Josh Hartley:
Yeah, we had study leave at school. So we had no lectures anymore, it was just going in for the odd tutor group or the odd, the odd catch up less than there was no uniformed lectures knows any sort of leaving my house, on the weekends to go and drink with friends, there was no sort of normal hobbies or, or, you know,social things I was doing that didn't involve drinking with my peers. It was either exams coming up, which I didn't really care about at the time, I was too. It's easy with hindsight.But at the time, I didn't know I was too depressed to care about my exams, that was too far gone.They were something I'd sit with whatever happened happened, I didn't. And I did okay, I didn't get my any of my grades. And I had to get in through clearing.So mentally, preparing for going through clearing and joining that university, which was never on the table was, it was a couple of weeks, it wasn't in my head, I always thought that I was going to particularly University in Scotland. And when I didn't, I didn't really have time, or the inclination to sort of adjust that I'd be having a slightly different uni experience.Caleb:
Yeah, you sort of talk about how you add, like a lack of hobbies and a lack of sort of social situations outside of drinking. And now how, how do you sort of occupy your time what sort of hobbies Do you have to sort of help you with your mental health?Josh Hartley:
Well, it's more than a hobby, it's my job. But writing helps me it's a good way of being of really expressing how you're feeling. And I think it's hard to get what you truly mean, across verbally, but when you when you've got an hour to write a sentence, and it's a bit dramatic, you can, you can choose the words very carefully and get the real meaning of how you're feeling out there, which is hard to have over a casual conversation. So that helps me I've recently started doing some rock climbing with my mates,which I enjoy. Because obviously, that's a sober activity, which is also physical. And it's a really good time to have a chat and whilst whilst exercising over. We started doing that, and I think it's great.Caleb:
Yeah, as far as I'm more,I guess, clinical or like professional help. What are your experiences, butJosh Hartley:
I think we saw three different GPS total. And it's, it is a good starting point, but it's it's not a good endpoint. I don't think going to a GP and being getting that tick in the box. I have depression is is good enough, really. It has to be the first stepping stone speaking to a GP and if you then go to therapy or see a psychiatrist or try the 1000s of different drugs and dosages out there. That's okay. And that's good. It's just, GPS aren't the be all and end all, they're often. And it's part of the system, they're an incredibly rushed. Incredibly, they have to see I don't know X amount of patients a day. And they don't really have this the time to sit down and talk things through with a patient. And often the easiest and quickest thing for them is to prescribe a tablet,which might not always be right for everyone. But that being said, medication is a route that helps millions of people. And it's something to definitely not shy away from, if you think that's right for you, as prescribed three different antidepressants, but I only ever took two of them. And they wouldn't work for me. But I'm sure there is a drug out there.That is right for me. I just never personally found it. But I'm sure if you're listening to this and think you might need it, I would encourage you to do soCaleb:
going going back to being at university. What What were your parents like as far as,obviously you're away from home?They're not seeing how you're behaving? They're not really seeing sort of the low mood that you're in? And how how would they as far as supporting you and interacting with you while at university?Josh Hartley:
Think I started lying to them? To be honest with you. It was sort of the odd phone call yet fine. Going to lectures. Yep, it became just a tick box exercise. Yeah,everything's fine, fine, fine.And I think they knew deep down,things weren't as, as fine. As I said, they were. I think that was that was obvious. And then I think when I moved, moved back home for the summer, I didn't do a lot of pot from sleep, I slept18 hours a day, and didn't really leave my bed for the rest. And so there was that set off the alarm bells, I went travelling in the summer of my first year at university. And I was just, I was too depressed to enjoy it. I was just miserable.And, uh, you know, on paper,that could have been the best couple of months of any young person's life. And I was just just sort of wanted my time even then to stop really. And that really cemented the idea that depression, you know, it's not it's not in place, it's, it's with you. It's the was the Sylvia Plath quote about the Bell Jar, it doesn't matter where you are, because you're stuck with that same Saturday doesn't matter if you're in a cafe in Paris, or, you know, a beach, it's all the same,because you're the problem is,and happiness doesn't replace,Caleb:
obviously, living with depression day after day. And you talk about sort of being in bed for 18 hours not leaving your room, the heavy drinking,what was like, what was what was the low point? What was sort of the point where it got to, you know, I need I need to approach hell, because up to now it sounds like, there hasn't been that it's more just, you know,I'm, you're roughing it, you're going through it. And what what made you initially sort of seek help.Josh Hartley:
I didn't have an option with you, to be honest, I was living by myself in a studio flat at university. And I hadn't left the house. It's hard to tell, but it was it was five weeks roughly. And I hadn't showered in three weeks, hadn't washed. I hadn't brushed my teeth, I was occasionally getting takeaway foods. But really, I in all the containers were just stuck to the floor. My living conditions were putrid.And a few weeks prior to this, I remember looking out at the sky,because I had a window I could see from my bed. And just observing day and night. It's Oh, it's daytime now Oh, it's nighttime. But my draw my, my blinds were perpetually drawn.And it didn't really make a difference the way I lived time or day, I used to like 4am a lot because nobody ever expects anything of you, you're near your phone's not going to ring it for him. It's just you and it's still. And it's a good thinking time. And I created an environment where it was foriegn. Always without really thinking about the consequences of doing that. And funnily enough, it's not great. You need to see people you need to have a sort of routine. Having this sort of muddled existence where time had no meaning was just incredibly dark period. For me.It's hard, nobody becomes depressed overnight. It's such a subtle thing, day by day, week by week, sort of your emotions get chipped away piece by piece until nothing really remains.And depression is often associated with a deep sadness and of course that's true. But it's it's this numbness. It's this absence of anything that I didn't really expect and I wish I knew. I wish I knew that from a bit earlier a younger age.When a lot of a lot of times I wish I felt sad feeling anything would have been preferable to this just state of numbness.It's It's weird because I could still see colours but they were so so faded. It was like it was just an instrument. fields from the world. And I didn't see anyone put it in place. But slowly things got grown grayer.And when I was at my lowest I not going to too much detail I had planned to end my own life.And the day, things pretty desperate, keeping details vague on purpose. But my stepdad just got a feeling that something wasn't quite right. And he drove from my home in Bristol to my university at Southampton. And he just came to my flat one day.And he said he was there there for a meeting, which wasn't,wasn't true. I found out later on, he just got a feeling that things weren't right, he knocked on my door. And the second he saw my face and the way I was living, he knew things were pretty bad. You could tell he wanted, he didn't know fully how to react. And I didn't know how to react because he was so this isn't good things are far worse than we initially expected. I couldn't look at myself in the mirror at this time, because I saw this sort of demonised version of myself rather than me. I just couldn't, I couldn't face what I saw in the mirror.He came in and he told me to go to sleep. And he, he held my hand and I went to sleep. When I woke up in the morning, he was tidying up my flat, throwing all my clothes, you know, into bin bags, just take home and do laundry. And we'll say where we're going, we're going home now. And I am sort of grateful that decision was out of my hands because I wanted to stay but I knew I couldn't stay in that flat much longer. And I didn't think I was ever going to go home again, to be honest with you, I thought that's that would have been it for me. So to have the option taken away from me and say, No, you are coming home, we're going home now, you can't stay here, having the option taken out of my hands.Hot, hard to stay but was what was needed for me at that time.Caleb:
As far as speaking about sort of the sort of backtrack to earlier on in what you were saying the initial sort of living alone and not seeing many people, obviously with like lockdown restrictions and everything at the moment. People that are students at the moment,it's obviously even more difficult to see people,especially if you're a first year in halls, for example, what advice would you sort of give to that like those students,because obviously you're in a similar sort of situation, or law, they're sort of have the obviously the students at the moment have the obstacle of sort of COVID restrictions and what you can and can't do, you know,lawfully or legally,Josh Hartley:
it's so tough, it really is. But I think we just have to put a positive spin on it because it is so it is so crap. I think when you're in this bubble of six, which you know, a lot of universities have gone into having to even split up corridors into these bubbles of six, look at it a really good chance to make five amazing friendships, and five really good connections, and you can look out for those five people.You know, it's easy to look out for five people, it's harder to look out for society in general and know that those five people are looking back out for you. I think that's the most positive spin I can put on it. But it is so tough. I think we just need to really promote kindness and be is be as patient and as and as welcoming and just talk about things as we can with those with those five others.Caleb:
You spoke earlier about going to university twice, where did sort of going back to university come in, and sort of the idea of because I'm assuming you you left you sort of finish university and after you the idea to carry out actions to take your own lifeJosh Hartley:
drops out. And then I sort of stayed home for about a year. I was horizontal the whole time. I wasn't doing anything I was sleeping. I was trying different anti depressive drugs at that time, none of which personally worked for me.But my life was just brain fog,everyday bled into one. I was just miserable. I was in. I was gaining weight due to some of the medication I was on. It made me either asleep or very hungry.So every waking hour I was on I was just ravenously hungry or asleep. So that was just a miserable way to live. And I was I was gaining weight. I was just just not just making no progress really made. My illness had plateaued, which was nice because I even though things are pretty desperate. It wasn't critical. I wasn't. I certainly was not the woods yet, but I could have been left by myself,for example. Obviously my parents still check to me the second they came home that's natural, I think, but I wasn't an immediate danger to myself on most days at a time. But I thought going back to university, I didn't see a lot of other options to be honest with you. I thought I had to go to university I didn't see I didn't see a path myself that didn't involve getting a degree,which is silly looking back I know that's just not the case.Of course of course there is there's millions of things I you know, cannon could have done,but it just felt like a beer and then too It's like and feel like such Competition sometimes. And close to 100% of my people, I knew all my friends were at university, you know, seems on paper to be having this great,great time. And that's one of the things that you know, you really, when you're at school,looking at university, you think it's gonna be the best time ever, you know, nonstop parties,it's gonna be just amazing, it's gonna be really, there's so much freedom, it's going to be the time of my life. And that's when that's not the case it can feel even more isolated. And what's wrong with me? Why? Why am I not having the best time? What's the Yeah, the truth is, I didn't see any other option. So I applied to Bristol University, which is my hometown. So I thought at least it was big safety net,with my family around the corner, if anything does go wrong. And it'll be it'll be okay. And I had that sort of to look forward to. So I accepted my place there. had to start over from year one again. But I think I think quite quite, was looking forward to that. Because I hadn't done a lot of studying previous University it was, I thought it was really good time to get stuck into university experience again. But unfortunately, the same sort of patterns I had at Southampton was starting to form in Bristol again. And it was that drinking heavy drinking, not going to lectures, not looking after,after my room, my personal hygiene was was fine. But my minute my bed and my match were horrible was just putrid again,it wasn't able to fully, fully have a normal existence, I think, what whatCaleb:
why do you think there was still, you know, those those patterns of behaviour, like cracked in again,Josh Hartley:
there was still depressed, I think I was that was still on my back, no matter how, how I acted, how I lied to a certain extent, I was still that, that depressed human. And that drinking was a way to alleviate my illness. And a way to, like I said previously have a pause in my illness. And it was my coping mechanism at that time. Looking back, I wasn't ready to go back, I shouldn't have gone back. I should have tried a million different things, no therapy, more psychiatry, that sort of stuff,but not, but not going back to university at that time. And I just think it was an environment that for me, allowed me to really slip at school, if you miss one lecture you were you get an email, your parents get an email, where were you? If you you know, if you do one thing,but at university, you can miss months, and nobody notices. And it's hard to feel wanted in that environment when nobody knows if you're there or not. And for me,I didn't feel wanted. I just felt just another number, which is just the way it is. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that. But that's the way it is.And it allowed me to just slip into that environment that allowed me to just really slip through the cracks.Caleb:
Yeah, I think that initial sort of change from being you know, very personable with you, if you choose potentially, to go from that to lectures, you know, you're one of however many in a lecture hall. I think I think that change is very difficult a mon experience. Yeah, that is it's a very difficult thing to solve concerns of, you know, being a number, as you said, as far as support for people just generally, what what advice would you give to other people dealing with depression dealing with suicidal ideation dealing with I guess alcoholism as well,I guess, is what you're sort of saying with the excessive drinking stuff that you did while at university? What advice would you give to those people,particularly people that are at university students that might have started University this year might be in the final year like I am,Josh Hartley:
I think my biggest piece of advice is things can and usually do get better. You just have to hang on in there.It doesn't always feel like it but just staying on the planet is an achievement. Take things day by day, hour, by hour,minute by minute if you have to.And knowing just just staying here when you don't want to be is a real achievement, making it through the night can be all it takes to sort of get a fresh perspective on things. Some some days, you might want to not be here anymore, and actively plan on, on doing something about that. But then the next day, you might not the day after you might feel slightly better. And six months down the line. You won't even think about taking your own life in any capacity.So just hold on out there, take it day by day, things can usually do get better. And speak to people people do care.Depression makes you feel like nobody cares. But that's not the case. I know that because the people there for me then is still there for me now. Now I've got friends and family that are still there for me. I just you can feel completely isolated and completely alone. But that's not the case. There is always someone The world is better for you being in it. It just doesn't always feel that way. The unfortunate truth is coming out the other side of depression is a slow and subtle process. You don't go to bed depressed and wake up fine. And it's often you're often well on your way to Recovery before you even notice any change whatsoever. No, it's like an oil tanker turning. The turn is well underway before,before you even notice it. And,but for me, colours just slowly started returning to the world,there wasn't one day where I thought I I'm not depressed, it was just I was, I was probably not depressed for four months before I realised I hadn't thought about taking my own life in quite a while, and everybody has good days and bad days, and your recovery process, you'll notice you have a lot more good days and bad days, which, you know, never used to be the case,when I was at Southampton,almost every day was bad. And now almost every day is good.Don't be afraid to take mental health days for yourself. It can appear selfish, but it's not.Some days, I just have to sleep,I have to be by myself, I have to go for a walk. And it can feel and look like I'm shaking off all responsibility. And, but that's what I need to do to, to get through that day, possibly,or to, to look after my own mental health and you have to do it. It's not selfish. And don't be afraid to just take a mental health day. And reach out, just reach out to other people speak speak about it, don't don't isolate, communicate with people, they do care. And often,people you have no clue that they are going through very similar things are, and you only find out these things by speaking about it. And finally,life's not the competition. I don't like using the word dropout because it feels like a failure in some way. But whatever path you take is probably right for you.University isn't for everyone,your own mental illness and happiness has to come first. No bit of paper is going to is going to really change thatCaleb:
going. Going back to the book, you talked about sort of writing being a way of sort of therapy and self care for you would recommend to the authors do sort of similar creative things. As far as ways of dealing with the mental health.Josh Hartley:
Absolutely. I wish I could draw, but I can't. If drawings for you, I'd draw every day if I could. That's just an excuse. Everyone can draw and I mean I draw, draw like a small child. I think just whatever's Good for you. Anything you can do creative, anything you can distract your brain from, from being depressed is is a good thing. And there's no there's no right or wrong path in doing so it's not whatever, whatever you like, it could be pottery, it could be yoga, dancing, just anything that can get you through the day can make you slightly distracted. For me it's writing but it could be anything. Even if it's just a TV show you like or or a video game you like playing it just doesn't matter what it is that any any disruption is welcome. And and don't shy away from things you wouldn't initially try things.therapy. I wish I'd spoken to therapists earlier. And if you're at university, there's probably you know, some real great facilities they've got an explore those fully, because most universities have have counselling services, I'm sure they've got also some therapies you wouldn't you wouldn't even thought of but it's worth trying. And it's especially when you're depressed. It's easy to sort of ...., say I don't care about them. They're not gonna work. They're not right for me.And that's not the case to try and just try and have an open mind and think about these things. Because you know, they can and do make a differenceCaleb:
as far as balancing the book itself. Where can people where can people find the book?How can people get a copy?Josh Hartley:
It's available on Amazon Kindle and paperback as well.Caleb:
Yeah. And that of course is The Boy Between: A Mother and Son's Journey From a World Gone Grey. If you're a studen experiencing depression or lo mood, you can find self hel resources at students agains depression.org. If you'r experiencing thoughts o feelings of suicide, you can ge crisis support from helpline U by phoning always double O684141 or the mental healt resources can b email@example.com. I you've enjoyed this episode an want to hear more, you can fin us on Facebook and Instagram a changing mentality podcast an on Twitter at changing men po