‘It’s okay to talk’ – the personal struggles behind the microphone

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‘People looking in from the outside may struggle to understand it, for someone who has covered the Olympics and the Champions League final. They might say “what have you got to be depressed about?”. I wish I knew.’

Since television presenter Rob Jones left Jersey behind in 2015, and with it his role as ITV Channel’s sports correspondent, life has presented a number of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

The 30-year-old has travelled to Brazil and South Korea to report on the summer and winter Olympics, has landed a freelance contract with Liverpool Football Club as a presenter for LFCTV and is now making regular appearances on Sky News. To the large majority, all would seem under control.

But that in itself is one key threat posed by mental illness.

While his career as a confident, adaptable journalist has flourished, Mr Jones has battled against depression and anxiety behind closed doors for almost a decade. Only recently has he begun to share his personal story, and ahead of his return to Jersey to host The Rock White Collar Boxing’s second event of 2018 he is hoping to make a difference to Islanders in similar situations.

Led by trainer Craig Culkin, tonight’s corporate boxing event at the RJAHS in Trinity aims to raise £10,000 for Jersey Stroke Association and Mind Jersey, and the latter clearly holds special meaning for the man with the mic.

‘It’s poignant and significant for me to host the event, because it [Mind Jersey] is a cause that’s very close to my heart,’ said Mr Jones, who hosted the same meeting in 2014.

‘I’ve always had an affinity with mental health and doing things for mental health, so when Craig [Culkin] first asked me to host four years ago that was more than a good enough reason for me. And it’s certainly a reason why I’m keen to come back and do it again.

‘It’s something I can really associate with having suffered with it for ten years.’

Discussing how the pressures of life in the public eye affect his mental well-being, Mr Jones says journalism has been a useful mask in recent years, rather than adding to the problem.

‘Going on TV or radio actually becomes the only true escape from it,’ he said.

‘Recently I was going down to film something and I was sat on a train with tears down my face. I didn’t know why, but obviously when you go on screen you have got to sort yourself out.

‘When you’re doing TV you’ve got to concentrate. You have to listen to the director in your ear, read the script and interview the guests – it’s a time when you’re so focused on something else. Then the moment you stop it all comes flooding back, and it’s during those down times where you do struggle and you can go into a dark spot.’

The freelance broadcaster, who is also doing radio work with the BBC, admits using his job as a distraction has left those closest to him unaware of his struggles.

‘Even now as we speak I can count on two hands the number of people who know about it,’ he explained.

‘A lot of people who I worked with at ITV Channel for three years will be surprised by it, and people who watch me on TV will be surprised by it. But even some of my really close friends who I’ve known since I was young don’t know.

‘It’s so difficult. I want to tell them and I have scenarios when I say “this is the time to talk to them”, but I can’t get the words out or start the conversation.

‘That’s why raising awareness of it is the most important thing, and saying “it’s okay to talk about it”.

‘It’s incredibly cathartic. I remember when I first properly spoke to my mum and dad about it a year ago it was a huge weight off the mind, and you do have a couple of days where you feel a lot better – you get respite from it.

‘When I’m in a down spell I think I haven’t made progress, but talking to people is good and I’ve got a lot better with that.’

He added: ‘This is an opportunity to talk about it. The white collar event has a mind of its own sometimes … it’s always popular and people want to do it, but the cause often gets lost.

‘It’s not just about the people who are going. There might be people who read the paper and might be struggling. There might be someone in St Mary, for example, who’s alone having lost a loved one, but if they happen to read this and think it’s time to do something then it makes me coming across to Jersey again incredibly worthwhile.

‘If one person reads this interview and says they’re going to talk to someone, even if it’s just their mum or a close friend – if one person can get the courage to do that then from my perspective that’s “job done”.

‘The stigma around mental illness is being broken down all the time, but it’s still there,’ he said.

Describing the details of his journey with depression and anxiety, he said: ‘Quite a bad car crash triggered it for me. I’m not sure why, but from that moment on I’ve struggled. I had two or three bad times a few months after that, and as a family we had a bad period from 2011, when I lost three grandparents in under two years. I had a bad dip in Jersey at one point, and then another one about a year ago.

‘The way I’d describe it to anyone who asks is it’s like a grey film between my skin and muscles. When I get anxiety it’s like someone grabs onto this film and pulls it, and all of this emotional energy causes my heart beat to go faster and I sweat – it’s an unpleasant combination of the two.

‘I have good and bad days like any illness, but it’s always there – it’s a permanent fighting battle with my own mind.

‘As part of my depression when I look in a mirror I wonder whether I’m seen as a failure and I think “am I doing enough, do people think I’m progressing in the right direction?”.

‘I talk to my parents more when I’m struggling and one of my close friends who knows has been really good – he doesn’t treat me any differently. He can tell when I’m struggling a bit and he helps me in a subtle way rather than baby-sitting. There is a tendency for people to either fuss or tip toe around, which is not necessary. Sometimes they can help by just sitting there and listening – that’s super important.’

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