Steven suffered childhood trauma and experienced depression and suicidal tendencies in his teens. He completed the Venture Scotland programme in 2009 and has been a volunteer since 2011.
A lot of stuff happened to me growing up.
I was eight when my younger brother, who was only 18 months old, died in an accident. I can remember that day like it was yesterday. It really messed me up.
My parents split up when I was 10 and I was bullied all through school as well. All of it had a big impact on my mental health.
Back then, in the early 90s, people didn’t talk about mental health in the way they do now. The school said, ‘we will keep an eye on him’ and that was about it.
In my mid-to-late teens, depression and suicidal tendencies started creeping in. All these angry, dark feelings built up inside me. I would punch myself in the head or punch walls, but it didn’t give me the release I was looking for.
I started cutting myself instead. It was obviously unhealthy, but it helped me deal with things. If I felt low, it would pick me up. If I felt angry, it would calm me down. I felt like I was releasing everything.
I kept it hidden for a few years but eventually told my mum. She was upset but totally calm about it. She understood. I was 21 and that was the first time I had reached out for help.
I attempted to take my own life on more than one occasion, which caused a lot of worry for those close to me. I had some one-to-one counseling but found group therapy worked better. You connect with people with different life experiences and different ways of dealing with things. We empathised with each other and became really close.
After 18 months I felt I had got what I wanted out of it. I spent some time with the Fairbridge charity (which became part of The Prince’s Trust). That helped me experience new things and meet people too, because anxiety was a big deal for me back then. I went sailing for the first time and helped sail the charity’s own boat from Oban to Liverpool.
I studied video game design at college and was good at the creative and practical side. But maths was always a weak point, so I didn’t pass what I needed to get through to the more advanced stage of the course.
My key worker at Fairbridge referred me to Venture Scotland, and the rest is history.
On the first day I could see through the window of the old office in Glasgow and the place was packed. Being around new people could still be a bit overwhelming for me, so I was nervous. But I took a deep breath and made that leap of faith.
I loved the activities, especially rock climbing; that was my favourite. Canoeing too. My first activity day was canoeing on Loch Lomond, the second gorge walking at The Devil’s Pulpit.
We went to a bothy in the Borders, then later to the bothy in Glen Etive. I love being up there; it is like my second home. Even now, I need that space. It’s a great place to clear your head and make sense of what is going on in your life.
A lot of young people have chaotic lives. Being there gives you some stability and routine. You learn self-discipline in a really positive, healthy, natural environment. Some people on the course you might not like so much, but you learn to work together and get used to each other. It can take a while for me to come out of my shell, but I did eventually and opened up to people.
I didn’t get on too well initially with one lassie who started at the same time as me – she will tell you herself, she hated me! But we are good mates now. We could both be a bit cheeky and gave as good as we got.
She had never met anybody like me before. She got to learn about my world and what it means to me. I am a metal head. Even when my depression was at its worst, music was always a positive outlet. Or more specifically, heavy metal.
Going out the front door could be terrifying at times but going to a gig and being surrounded by hundreds or thousands of people, I wouldn’t feel nervous. I’d have a great time seeing my favourite bands and that buzz keeps you going.
The Venture Scotland programme can be intense, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Getting outside, meeting other people and experiencing things together ultimately helped me more than anything. I learned to trust people.
I remember going home the night before a five-day bothy trip – we had been packing everything that day, ready to go – and my mum told me my grandfather had been diagnosed with cancer. It was a big jolt for me but I went in the next day and told the group. Everybody was really supportive. It turned into a great trip because we were all so tight by then.
I learned to analyse situations and pick up on things, which helps me as a volunteer now. The young people might act slightly differently around me and let their guard down a bit, because I’ve been through it, which helps me understand their situation. I did a course in counseling skills in 2015, and more recently a mental health first aid certificate. You are always learning. With Venture Scotland you get out what you put in.
Life still has its ups and downs. I had a bit of a breakdown in 2017 and went through a rough patch, but I am back on my feet now. I have a part-time job with The Works in Glasgow, bringing in deliveries and dealing with the stockroom.
I will always be there for Venture Scotland because Venture Scotland has always been there for me. I still get a lot out of it as a volunteer because I want other young people to get as much out of the course as I did.