Staff and students at Edge Hill University were inspired by founders of a charity for bereaved men when they shared their powerful stories of overcoming heart-breaking loss.
Dan Cross and Efrem Brynin, directors of the StrongMen charity and participants on SAS: Who Dares Wins, visited Edge Hill as part of the University’s month-long campaign to promote health and well being.
The inspirational pair spoke about the devastating loss they have experienced – highlighting the connection between mental and physical health and the importance of looking after both.
Dan’s wife, Nikki, was stabbed to death by an intruder in the family home and Efrem’s son, James, was killed while serving in the British Army.
Speaking at the event on campus, Dan explained how he was working away when an intruder broke into the family home, stabbing his wife to death. His two young children were abducted but quickly rescued by the police.
‘I suffered mental health problems after my bereavement,’ Dan said. ‘The anxiety meant all I could think was “it’s going to happen again”. I didn’t even want my children to go to school. I was diagnosed with depression about six months later; I felt like I didn’t have another happy day to come.’
Efrem’s son James was 22 when he was killed in Afghanistan. ‘I still remember what we were doing that day,” he said. “And then everything just changed. Our lives fell apart. I was a little bit lost, I am still a bit now.’
Dan and Efrem now work hard to reach other men who are experiencing bereavement; their charity StrongMen provides free weekend breaks incorporating physical activity, advice from experts and an opportunity to share experiences and feelings.
Speaking on University Mental Health Day, Sonya Clarkson, HR Director at Edge Hill University, said: ‘When Dan and Efrem arrived on campus we knew they were going to make a really positive impact.
‘Staff and students who attended their talks were keen to learn more about the links between physical well-being and mental health and felt inspired by their stories.
‘Aiming their work at men and bereavement, they give an insight into ways men can talk openly; asking for help is not a failure. Their courage to speak so willingly about their journey is one that will make a difference.
‘It was an absolute pleasure to have them speak at our event, which is part of a wider programme of initiatives to promote health and well-being within our Edge Hill community.’
Dan and Efrem found solace in physical exercise and Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins was an important experience for them both, though in very different ways.
The programme’s medical adviser spotted that Efrem was experiencing symptoms of prostate cancer and urged him to seek help when he returned home – this early diagnosis saved his life.
‘If I hadn’t done SAS I wouldn’t have spotted the symptoms,” Efrem said. “But because of the programme, it was picked up early; I was incredibly fortunate.’
And Dan experienced extreme anxiety about being away from his children for the first time since his wife’s death, prompting him to seek professional help.
Dan added: ‘My recovery can be summed up in three words: honesty, clarity, and determination. I had to be honest with myself about how I was feeling; it became clear that I was going to bring our kids up the way Nikki would’ve wanted; and I became determined to seek professional help. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.’