South West Wales

Rugby referee Nigel Owens backs anti-suicide campaign

International rugby referee Nigel Owens
Image caption Welsh rugby referee Nigel Owens fell into a coma after taking an overdose in his mid-20s.

An international rugby referee who took an overdose as he struggled with his sexuality is backing a campaign to reduce suicides amongst men.

Nigel Owens urged men to talk about their problems as he helped launch the Samaritans Men on the Ropes campaign.

The 39-year-old who came out publicly as gay three years ago was in a coma after attempting suicide in his 20s.

The campaign, targeted at men in their 30s, 40s and 50s, aims to cut the 4,000 plus male suicides a year in the UK.

Mr Owens urged men to "pick up the phone" and speak about their problems - no matter how small.

"I was lucky enough to get a second chance and realise that I had a problem and how much it helped when I did speak to people about it," he said.

"My advice is no matter how small you think your problem is, speak to somebody about it."

The Rugby World Cup referee revealed in his autobiography Half Time how after growing up in the small village of Mynyddcerrig in Carmarthenshire he struggled to come to terms with being gay.

He fell into a coma after attempting suicide aged 26.

"I woke up in hospital, my parents were crying and all my friends were there. 'My God, what have I done?' were the first thoughts to cross my mind," he said.

"I needed to accept who I was and once I did that I could get on with things."

The campaign, which also aims to cut suicides on the railways has the backing of Network Rail.

Samaritans said their own research showed most middle aged men from working class backgrounds did not discuss their emotions with friends or colleagues because it would be seen as "weak".

Former Premier League footballer Warren Aspinall, 43, who was born in Wigan but now lives in Southampton, has also backed the campaign.

He described how he had stood on a railway track waiting for a train to come and only jumped out of the way "at the last second" after suffering big gambling losses.

"Just pick up the phone and speak to somebody, speak to your wife or your loved one because that is what helped me," he said.

"There is a macho culture amongst men and no-one wants to be seen as weak, but you need to talk about your problems by picking up the phone."

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