10 October is World Mental Health Day 2019, and CAFE Media and Communications Manager Michael Rice has spoken about the importance of speaking openly about the topic.

Back in January, I had travelled to Barcelona to take part in the first meeting of the Disability Access Officer Network Group. We were about an hour into the meeting, and there had already been some really lively discussions, when my phone rang and I noticed it was a friend from home calling. I was going to let it go to voicemail, and call back during one of the breaks, but I had a feeling the call would be about something important so stepped out of the room and took the call.

My friend asked how I was, where I was, and apologised for calling during a work trip. Then he told me news from back at home that absolutely rocked me - our good friend Steven had committed suicide.

My immediate reaction was to question him - "Are you sure?", "How can this have happened?", "Why?" I asked, but we had no answers. I was in a state of shock, disbelief and utter sorrow. Steven was one of the good ones - he had a loving family, was engaged to the love of his life and was a proud father with a second son on the way. "There must be some sort of mistake", I remember thinking.

I returned to the meeting room and tried to carry on with my role in supporting the event, but kept thinking back to the last time I'd saw Steven. I felt like we had let him down, that we should have seen the signs.

The last time I had saw my friend was at Old Trafford, for an away match against Manchester United. We hadn't crossed paths for a few weeks before that, so he was full of questions about the work trips I had been on, the matches I had attended and how other friends he hadn't seen for a while were doing. He was telling me about work, all about his young son, and how excited he was for his second to be born a few months later. No matter how many questions I asked myself, there had been no signs at all. He was full of life, with a huge smile on his face.

The night that he passed away, Steven had been at another match, this time a home one. We even won, which has become a bit of a rarity.

After the match, Steven was working as a DJ in one of the nearby pubs. I had an early flight to Barcelona the next day, so headed home straight after the full time whistle. Everyone who had been at the pub told me he was on top form, laughing and joking all night. He told the pub manager he would come back the next day to collect his equipment.

I spoke with a few friends whilst I was in Barcelona, and we shared some of our favourite memories of going to the match with Steven. We had travelled up and down the country to countless matches, and enjoyed a few European away adventures. He was a huge part of the group, and suddenly he was gone.

I travelled back to Liverpool for Steven's funeral. The church, overflowing with the amount of people who came to pay their respects, was full of grief but also of happy memories with our friend. That evening, we celebrated our mate and supported one another. We spoke about how we would always be there for each other.

It was because of football that I first met Steven. Our group of friends are a very loyal and protective of one another, but equally we love nothing more than to enjoy a laugh at each other's expense. We can be quite ruthless with each other, but it is all in good fun.

Football is sometimes seen as a 'macho' environment, and there is a misconception that talking about feelings and emotions isn't a very manly thing to do. Nothing could be further from the truth - the bravest thing that anyone can do is speak up about the way they feel.

I will forever regret that Steven wasn't able to tell us how he was feeling - that maybe we could have done something to help and he might still be with us.

Since his death, some things have changed within our friendship group. We understand mental health much better now. We are more open with each other, we ask how we are doing, and we are getting better at noticing when one of our friends needs our help.

That said, many things have remained the same. We still laugh and joke, and make fun of each other. I'm glad we can still do this, and everyone in the group knows we that no matter what we say we all care for each other very deeply.

A lot of us will be posting on social media during World Mental Health Day, that we are always there in case anyone needs to talk. But mental health isn't just about one day a year - we are all on our own journeys and we need to support one another every single day.

No good can come from the loss of a friend, but Steven's passing has helped us all to understand mental health a lot more. It has given us the hope that we can speak with each other about our feelings and emotions, and that we honour the memory of our friend in doing so. It has also helped to patch up friendships that had drifted away, and reconnect with good friends I had lost contact with.

I ask everyone who reads this to take the time today to ask their friends how they are doing, if anything is worrying them, and what is on their mind. Watch out for signs of distress or changes in behaviour, and be there to listen if they are ready to talk.

If you feel like you are struggling, speak with someone and do not be afraid to discuss how you are feeling. It is not a sign of weakness, it is a show of strength.

Please feel free to share your comments below, or you can email me at michae[email protected].