How Andy beat fear of outdoors by sharing his anxiety with others
Music festival organiser explains how he took on his agoraphobia
09 September, 2019 — By Tom Foot
Andy with singer Amy Vix. ‘Above all, this is a music festival… but people are aware of what it’s about’
ANDY Koufou spent years living in fear of the outdoors, even reaching the point where he decided he could not leave his home.
Diagnosed with agoraphobia, he became overwhelmed by anxiety and later severe insomnia before trying to kill himself two years ago.
He began venturing out slowly only after building up his confidence through organising music gigs around Camden Town.
Now 53, he is managing two up-and-coming singers who are performing at a 10-day festival he is organising at the Camden Assembly venue in Chalk Farm Road.
The Aktion 4 Prevention festival, coinciding with World Suicide Prevention Day, is raising funds for a charity that runs a 24-hour helpline specifically for musicians in need of support.
“Agoraphobia is basically a fear of getting panic attacks outside,” Mr Koufou said. “First, you might have one or two due to stress and then you start avoiding places where you had those attacks, for example a coffee shop. The more you avoid that place, it gets bigger and bigger – until before you know it you don’t go out at all.”
He added: “Your mind gets into such a state you can’t see a way out. I had severe insomnia, which is very difficult to describe. It’s like you don’t sleep but you don’t wake up. Your mind doesn’t function normally. “I was lucky that, after my suicide attempt, there was no damage – it really could have been a lot worse – and now I’m managing two artists and doing this music festival. It has all made me want to talk about it, to help people who might be feeling the same way.”
He added: “Now I just talk about my mental health, like it’s my back that’s hurting. People are often struck by the way I normalise it. But most people will have an experience of mental ill health – the vast majority will have problems they don’t talk about.”
Mr Koufou, who lives in Camden Town, said that traditional mental health help was dwindling and becoming ineffective because of cutbacks.
“You can wait for months for appointments through your GP,” he said. “What are your options? I exhausted all the phone lines. What I would say to people is: make sure you have two or three people that you can talk about anything to. I couldn’t talk about things with people. Rather than share, things build and build and build.”
He added: “Obviously, something like this, it scares a lot of people. But you need to find one or two people that don’t feel like they have to give you an answer, and are there just to say ‘Ok, Andy.’ I had five different numbers stored in my phone just as ‘HELP’. Then, if I needed it, I’d just look under help.”
Mr Koufou has made subtle changes to his day-to-day regime to help him with his recovery.
“When I don’t have access to the internet at home, I’m calmer,” he said. “It’s a small thing, but I don’t take any messages after 9pm and before 9am. Now I structure my day. I slow down.”
Mr Koufou is staging an event at the Camden Assembly on Tuesday to raise funds for Help Musicians UK.
He said: “Above all, this is a music festival. I don’t want people to look at this and think: this looks depressing. It’s a great music event, with interesting bands – but people are aware of what it’s about.”
The festival at Camden Assembly venue runs from tomorrow (Friday) until September 16.