Sexuality, suicide attempts and the strongman - McNaghten on winning his mental battle

Chris McNaghten hopes to secure the Ireland's Strongest Man title before retiring from the sport
Chris McNaghten hopes to secure the Ireland's Strongest Man title before retiring from the sport

Ultimate tests of strength - straining every sinew to pull along an 18-tonne truck or lifting, grappling and manoeuvring huge Atlas stones almost twice the weight of the average man.

The World's Strongest Man has been a holiday favourite on the telly down the years, with the winner akin to a human Hercules with supernatural powers.

But the muscles and machismo of the strongmen can often be facade, for they are mere mortals facing the struggles of life like us all.

Larne strongman Chris 'Big Bear' McNaghten made two suicide attempts while suffering from severe depression - at its core coming to terms with being a gay man.

A sport suited to his physique, he says he 'never stopped growing' and McNaghten collected two junior Irish titles and finished runner-up at UK level after starting training at 19 in a farmer's shed.

'Strongman training was like self-medication and helped with a huge part of my character - there was another part of my character, who I was, that I was sheltering quite a bit," the 31-year-old told Sportsound Extra Time.

Public eye

"When you don't want to come out about your sexuality and your in the public eye so much it makes you far more anxious about it.

"So I stepped away from strongman and in that time I told my family and my friends. I was 27 when I came out - I went back to strongman and wasn't sure how it would go down."

McNaghten was find out when he made his strongman return in a Glasgow competition.

"I spent the whole day constantly shaking hands and getting hugs. I was trying to actually compete while people were calling me over and wanting to congratulate me.

"The whole day I was trying not to cry - you're trying to do a competition while you are getting all this.

"The emotion was awful. I was about to do a dead lift and I thought I was about to burst out crying.

"It was an amazing day - the guys in the sport are amazing and are incredibly accepting of the LGBT community. It's an amazing sport and brilliant to be a part of."

Chris McNaghten lifts weights while competing in the UK Strongest Man competition
Chris McNaghten lifts weights while competing in the UK's Strongest Man competition

The response was a turning point for McNaghten and he is now telling his story as a mental health advocate, which he says is "a big part of my therapy".

That includes going into schools as an example of how a happy life can be realised for those struggling with mental illness.

Shocking stories

"I love the work I do now, I love talking to the kids. Some of the their stories - it's shocking but you are also glad that you are there," added McNaghten.

"I've had a nine-year-old tell me how they have also tried to take their own life multiple times and you are just thinking 'how is this possible - why would a child of that age ever want to do this?' but I actually sit and talk with a nine-year-old like an adult having a conversation with them - they're listening to what I have to say.

"People who hear my story - they know how bad I was, how bad my life was, how I genuinely couldn't see a future and I desperately wanted it to be over and I went from that to who I am now.

"It just shows people that there is a massive future ahead of you and you can get through it.

"When you are talking to the kids and they can see who I am today and hear who was back then. If they ever hit stages like that in life they think back to me and know its not going to be there forever."

Click here to hear from Chris McNaghten on BBC Radio Ulster's Sportsound Extra Time