Scarborough poet and former bricklayer urges those with mental health issues to seek help

Poet and former bricklayer Terry White hopes by sharing his experiences he can help those suffering with mental health issues to speak up and seek support.
Poet Terry White used writing to help his mental healthPoet Terry White used writing to help his mental health
Poet Terry White used writing to help his mental health

Terry’s life was changed 30 years ago when, with a neighbour, he pulled a 23-year-old man from a burning building. The man later died of his injuries.

Terry found he could not forget the images from that day in March 1992 when a block of flats in Trafalgar Road exploded.

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"I, and a neighbour, entered the building twice before rescuing a man covered in flames. Unfortunately, the young man died of 70 per cent burns in Wakefield hospital three days later.

“Although the neighbour and I both received civilian bravery awards, I suffered flashbacks of the sounds and sights of that night,” said Terry.

He is from a generation that did not talk about depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

"There was a stigma attached to mental health problems,” he said.

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It was the fire officer who told him he was to receive an award who recommended Terry saw a counsellor.

"He said ‘we are trained and all of us have had counselling’. That’s when I decided I should talk to someone. Everything just came out.”

The counsellor also suggested he write down how he felt – and that is when he started writing poetry, though he has only ever written one poem about the fire and his part in the rescue.

"It did not help me straightaway but I improved and I enjoyed writing poetry,” he said. “Writing poetry also became a comfort when in the following three years, I lost my mother, brother, sister and brother-in-law.”

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He and his wife Irena moved to Gibraltar to be near family and they lived there for 10 years. He wrote poetry for the Gibraltar Chronicler. He also received a card from Yoko Ono after he sent her a poem, Strawberry Fields Forever, about her husband and Beatle John Lennon.

The move also helped him focus on something other than the fire.

Returning to Scarborough, he and Irena live in Swanhill Road, minutes away from where Terry was born and brought up in James Street.

He has had a lot of success with his poetry including publishing a book of 60 of his verses, As well as Tales from the Listening Tree, Terry has published Where the Reflecting River Flows and the Little Book of Rhymes and Nonsense, a collection of poems and stories he used to tell his three grandchildren.

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For the past year, the 75-year-old has recited a poem three days a week for the Dave Simcox show on Radio Scarborough.

He has also discovered his wife Irena has kept a scrapbook of cuttings about the fire and Terry’s success with his poetry.

He will never forget the night of the fire, though the sleepless nights and flashbacks are rare.

"Now, my life is no longer dark and the horrors of that night have thankfully eroded,” he said. I am a firm believer that through a dark tunnel there is always a bright light shining.

"I hope that my experience may help someone who is maybe also in a dark period.”