A Dundee man who served in the Army for 25 years has been recognised for launching a mental health support group.
In 2019 Andy Farquhar, 47, set up Escape The Mind, a weekly drop-in group for public servants.
Later that year former North East Fife MP Stephen Gethins lauded the group in parliament for encouraging people to “open up and talk about their feelings without being judged or labelled”.
Qualified trainer Andy’s nomination demonstrates his recovery from reaching a low point in May 2013.
This is Andy’s story.
Three post-school options
Andy Farquhar grew up in Happyhillock Road with three sisters.
The second eldest child, he attended Whitfield Primary and Whitfield High (now Braeview Academy).
Aged 16, Andy says he had three post-school options: earn £28 per week in a Youth Training Scheme; do an apprenticeship with his electrician father, who by then had left the family home; or join the Army.
“The offer from dad never came,” he says, so opted to sign up with the Royal Engineers in Dover.
‘It all hit me, but without me knowing’
Andy served all over the world and helped with the war effort at Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Each tour was totally different,” he says. “In Bosnia, for example, I was shocked that there was so much acrimony despite the war being over.”
He has served with many comrades who have lost their lives, with one in particular having a lasting effect.
In Afghanistan in 2010 a close friend in his troop passed away.
“In the forces the attitude is to ‘run it off’ so I didn’t talk about it.
“When I got back from Afghanistan that year it all hit me, but without me knowing.”
‘I was running away from how I was feeling’
By then Andy had a wife and three children.
Instead of addressing his feelings Andy sought the first possible exit and headed to the Army Training Regiment (ATR) Bassingbourn.
“I didn’t realise I was running away from how I was feeling,” he recalls.
At Bassingbourn he learnt how to coach and teach at a high level.
At one point he was in charge of training 44 recruits and came up with novel experiments to test the best methods of learning and development.
One of these established a link between visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning approaches and the turnover of service personnel.
“As a result, fewer people left the troop. This saved a great expense,” Andy recalls.
In 2012 he also worked on a project with Olympic athletes and top coaches to help their motivation.
“I reached the pinnacle in instruction, coaching and mentoring career,” he says.
‘I was not right’
But further heartbreak was around the corner. In December that year his father died, followed by the breakdown of his marriage.
In May 2013 things came to a head and he experienced a breakdown. “I was not right.
Andy’s role in the Army as a coach gave him an opportunity to recover from this trauma.
I have always been a hard critic on myself and don’t give myself any credit for anything
He studied neuro-linguistic programming that helped him learn how the brain works.
“It helped me analyse my thoughts,” he says. “My problem is in the past when people have left me I go wrong.
“This happened when my dad left as a kid, which is where it all stems from, when my close friend died in Afghanistan, when my wife left and when my dad died.
“I have always been a hard critic on myself and don’t give myself any credit for anything.
“When I go through hard times I turn to helping others to keep my mind off it.”
‘I lost all my confidence’
Andy left the Army in December 2015. Despite his qualifications in teaching and coaching he was unable to find a job for the next eight months.
“I lost all my confidence,” he says.
In July 2016 he got a job as maintenance manager at Dundee’s Malmaison hotel on a salary 40% lower than when he was at the Army.
After a spell as self-employed plumber he went on to work for the Apex Hotel in Dundee.
In his spare time he volunteered at Dundee Therapy Garden, which provides horticultural therapy sessions for veterans in Dudhope Park.
‘I realised that I’d run away from everything’
In 2019 things really started to fall into place for Andy. The year began with him helping out at mental health charity Andy’s Man Club in Dundee, where he took a significant step forward.
“I went there to help but after my third week I stood up and told them my story,” he says.
“I broke down because I realised that everything I’d been holding onto in the past I hadn’t spoken to anyone about.
“I realised that I’d run away from everything and not faced it because I always thought I’d run it off and be okay.
“It was then that I realised that everything that had happened in the past had had an effect.”
‘People need to take responsibility’
In July 2019 Andy was appointed a project manager for Amey, a role that has provided stability and job satisfaction. He is also a mental health ambassador for the company.
That year he also decided to set up Escape The Mind, a mental health group for public servants including police, fire, health, prison and military staff.
Before lockdown the group met every Monday night at Leuchars Community Centre.
“I would ask them a series of questions, such as how has your week been, so they can rant.
“Then I would get them to talk about something positive so they leave with a feel-good factor.
“I made sure I challenged them and tried to put a seed in their head that they can find the right answer to their problems.
“Tablets are a quick fix to mental health problems. People need to take responsibility.”
Though dozens attended the classes every week their drop-in nature made it unsuitable to continue online.
The group should be starting up again with sessions, in-person, from September 2021. Contact Andy for more details.
By then Andy may have received an award for his work.
He is a finalist in the Advocate of the Year category for the second annual Scottish edition of the Ex-Forces in Business Awards, the world’s largest celebration of veterans in second careers.
The submission for Andy’s entry speaks about him in glowing terms:
“He upholds the Army’s core values through courage (shows restraint, endure hardships and focuses); discipline (by inspiring self-confidence in others); respect for others (by treating them how we wants to be treated); integrity (being truthful and honest); loyalty (allegiance and commitment to others which his probably his strongest); and selfless commitment.”
The event will take place at the DoubleTree by Hilton Glasgow’s Grand Ballroom on Thursday August 19.