As a grassroots campaign, we encourage our Champions to speak up about their views on mental health stigma, in their own voices.
Early next year will be the second anniversary of the death of my good friend John who sadly lost his life to suicide. When I think of John, which I do often as we met through our shared love of music I think of one of most generous, funniest and nicest people I have had the privilege to know and call a friend. And although our 20 year friendship was for the most part long distance, he was from Newcastle in England and I’m here in Derry I miss him.
In the months before John’s passing we hadn’t been in touch as often, I’d decided to come off Facebook because honestly it wasn't good for my wellbeing so I didn’t have the regular updates from him, life got in the way. And when I found out he was gone I was floored.
I don’t know too much around the circumstances about John’s passing but from talking with mutual friends it would seem for a period of time he was not himself, but he always had a smile or a quick witted response. Being geographically distant I wasn’t there to see any warning signs, then again as with a lot of men they/we don’t always talk about or show how we feel.
Part of the problem with us men is that there is the perception that if we admit we are having difficulty coping we are weak, less masculine or any other range of subjective adjectives, essentially we self stigmatise and label ourselves. So here’s the thing, we all know we need to challenge the stigma that stops people from talking about their mental health or getting the help or support they need. And we can do this by educating and informing other people and ourselves of the facts about mental illness, we can help reduce the level of stigma and self stigma, because the truth is, it’s ok not to feel ok and it’s ok to ask for help.
A few weeks ago the website thedetail.tv published an article on the need for a Suicide Prevention Strategy it provided some shocking statistics. For example records available from 1970 up to the end of June 2017 show that the total number of people known to have taken their own lives has now reached 8,158. And out of 297 deaths by suicide recorded last year the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) data confirms that 221 male and 76 female lives lost. Any life lost is one too many, but that nearly 3 males are losing their lives for each female life lost to suicide shows there is so much work to be done to get us men to talk.
To address the issue of suicide we need to address the stigma surrounding mental illness, it’s not just a Governmental responsibility, it’s everyone’s responsibility. The impact of John’s passing reinforced the responsibility on me as a father of three boys to talk to them and to impress on them the importance of asking for help, and not only that to be mindful of others around them. To break down and challenge stigma and to see the person not the diagnosis. Hopefully by the time my children have made me a grandfather we’ll have made massive steps forward in ending stigma & discrimination against people with a mental illness.
As I end this I’d like to leave you with a few lines from one of John’s favourite songs, ‘Immaculate’ by Francis Dunnery. As a society we’re bombarded through the media and social media by stylised idyllic images of the perfect life, the perfect family that even I as an eternal optimist balk at. This notion of perfect or immaculate is not real, nor does it reflect real life and for some when we cannot attain that illusion of perfection we can feel we have failed or are less than, when truthfully we are not. When we do not label or stigmatise ourselves or others or think of ourselves or others as less then, when we can have an open conversation about mental health without any of the associated negative baggage we will have made headway.
We can start this process with any person using three simple words, how are you?
Just be prepared to listen.
If only I could tell you that you are what you believe The hurting would be over and we would both be free If only you'd believe me when I said you're beautiful The images would manifest and beautiful you'd be If only I could show you what Immaculate could be The negative would perish and the positive would be If only you'd allow yourself to hear what I've just said Then pretty soon you'd realise that immaculate is sitting in your head
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