FOR Nick Ray, the sea always felt like home. And it was home to which he decided to return on May 3, 2019.

The kayaker, instructor and adventurer was on his way from Tobermory to a psychiatric facility in Oban after the latest, and fiercest, onslaught of depression.

On a clear, blustery day, he calmly left his wife Karen in the atrium of the MV Isle of Mull under the pretence of visiting the toilet. Instead, he slipped up the stairs to the observation deck. Careful to avoid the gaze of other passengers, he found a quiet part of the ship. He took off his fleece jacket, placed it on the deck and sat his phone on top.

Wearing only trainers, trousers and a thin T-shirt, he hurdled the safety rail and perched himself on the edge of the boat. “Beneath me the wake of the ship creamed alluringly,” he later wrote. “Without hesitation I leap.”

Thankfully, the alarm was raised and a rescue operation launched. The cry of “man overboard” went up and the captain told passengers to scour the water for signs of life.

The scene is one I can recall first-hand, having coincidentally been on the ship that day. I was returning with my brother Iain from a family holiday on Mull. Watching events unfold with a detached sense of helplessness, the minutes ticked by. With ­every second the chances of a ­successful rescue ­decreased. Speed boats were launched from the about-turned MV Clansman. Eventually a pink blob was spotted bobbing on the waves a few hundred metres away. Nick’s stiff body was soon hauled from the water and flipped on to the boat, before it sped off for dry land.

For us passengers on the 1.30pm sailing from Craignure that was the end of the drama. For Nick, whose core temperature plummeted to a life-threatening 35 degrees, it was the beginning of his recovery. It took months of intensive treatment to pull him out of his latest, and deepest, depressive episode. But now, during Mental Health Awareness Week, he is speaking out to help the countless others who suffer as he does.

Two years ago this month, adventurer Nick Ray was recued by the crew of the MV Clansman after attempting to end his life. Now, to mark Mental Health Awareness week, he explains how he's learnt to live with his depressionThe MV Isle of Mull ahead of its 1.30pm sailing from Craignure. Photograph: Angus Cochrane

READ MORE: Two-third of Scots say being close to nature improves their mood

AMONG those countless others is my brother Iain, 29, who just four weeks prior to that extraordinary ferry crossing had made an attempt on his own life. He was in the bathroom – Nick’s stated destination – when Karen burst in, desperately searching for her husband. Deep down, she later recalled, she knew her husband was the man overboard.

Two years on Iain, like Nick, has learned to live with his depression. Detailing his progress, Nick, 57, explains: “I was very fortunate to get some excellent therapy through the community mental health team, which I think has transformed my recovery. I’ve learnt how to have a relationship with my depression, rather than trying to fight it all the time. I recognise that I will get depressed. But it's something that I'm going to have to learn to live with. It’s far better. I relate with it rather than try and overcome it all the time.” 

Key to that recovery has been his relationship with nature, fostered during his childhood in Zimbabwe. He left Africa in the late 1970s and moved to Scotland 20 years ago ­before settling in Tobermory, where until recently he lived in a floating home in the harbour. Over the years he’s done it all, whether it be working for adventure company Outward Bound, managing a hotel or training in psychotherapy. For much of that time he has faced spells of deep depression, having first been diagnosed in 1996. Recently he turned his attention to writing, launching a moving and popular blog about his adventures, and struggles with mental health.

Nick’s primary passion remains his sea voyages in his trusty kayak. Videos shot on trips around Scotland’s west coast have earned him tens of thousands of followers on Twitter, with social media users delighted by his close encounters with porpoises, sharks and sea birds. As well as providing a physical escape, the outdoors brings him spiritual comfort. “I’ve worked in outdoors with people all my life, I’ve been a development trainer, and I’ve actually trained in psychotherapy,” he says. “I’ve integrated my outdoor experiences with therapy. So I’m very aware of the personal development processes that play with the outdoors and the powerful nature of the outdoor experience.”

Two years ago this month, adventurer Nick Ray was recued by the crew of the MV Clansman after attempting to end his life. Now, to mark Mental Health Awareness week, he explains how he's learnt to live with his depressionNick Ray hopes his openness about mental health can help others

READ MORE: Link found in access to outdoor space and mental health through Covid

NICK’S outlook is undoubtedly modern, but it chimes with ideas from more than 100 years ago. US President Theodore Roosevelt struggled with depression. He would escape to the wilds – from the American West to the plains of eastern Africa – to seek renewal in his darkest moments. As he put it: “Black care rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough.”

While not everyone can rely on exhilarating, globe-trotting excursions, making use of the great outdoors is at the heart of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, with nature named the theme for 2021. Almost two-thirds of adults in Scotland say being close to nature improves their mood, new research by the Mental Health Foundation Scotland shows. It is now calling for action to ensure the provision of “safe and accessible green spaces”.

That message is wholeheartedly endorsed by Nick, who hopes retelling his story can help others. “I know it’s difficult for people to hear me talk about [attempting to take his own life] but I’m pleased that people are willing to listen,” he explains. “It’s really helpful if we make it easier for people to talk about.”

The 57-year-old says he doesn’t want anyone to feel “ashamed” when they raise the subject, and hopes people can look to him for inspiration. “Maybe they turn to somebody and say something about it because they’ve seen my blog or heard me talk on YouTube or whatever, they feel a bit more comfortable with turning to somebody and saying ‘I feel like that sometimes too, you know’.”

Getting to the point where he can be so honest, and decidedly optimistic, about his mental health has not been easy for Nick. Nor is it easy for anyone, as my brother can attest. But the adventurer – who has competed in extreme yacht races, run marathons up mountains and kayaked around all 1850 miles on Scotland’s coastline – has found a sense of inner peace, drawn from his surroundings.

The man from Zimbabwe has come to love his adopted homeland. In particular, Scotland’s “magical” littoral realm, where the land meets the sea. “As I paddle into these wee coves you can see where the ancients have pulled away the rocks to create landing places. Nearby I’ll find an Iron Age fort or something like that. It really ties me to the history of the country and how unique it is.”

He adds: “And, you know, we think about our heritage, Scotland being a nation in its own right in the UK, because of the uniqueness of how we were formed historically. It can be very romantic, but it’s also very grounding for me, it makes me feel like I really belong somewhere, which is incredibly important, particularly since I grew up in a different country. So I feel very much at home here … that’s really important to me.”

Two years ago, Nick felt home was beneath the waves. He now feels at peace on the crest of them.

For details on Mental Health Awareness Week, visit

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