Towards the latter part of June, we are focussing on men's mental health. Just over three out of four suicides (76%) are by men and suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 35. (Reference: ONS, source: Mens Health Forum). Ian, from Harlow in Essex, tells us his story and why support for this cause is so important.
Before I tell you about me I want to break something to you, and I hope it won’t disappoint you. I’m not Stephen Fry or Alistair Campbell, I’m not the Rapper Scarface and I’m pretty sure that I’m not Catherine Zeta Jones. I’m not a prince or a princess, in fact I’m a pretty ordinary guy. You see, I think it’s really useful that people in the public eye, nationally or internationally, speak about their mental health challenges. But although their celebrity status helps raise awareness, for me it doesn’t go far enough. There is a danger that it doesn’t chime with the ordinary lives of the vast majority of people who experience mental health problems. I’m not convinced that if a Hollywood superstar stands up and reveals he has been struggling with bipolar, that empowers the butcher, the baker, the teacher or the local councillor to do likewise. Of course it’s reassuring to know we are not alone. For goodness sake, mental health problems, and depressive illnesses in particular, can lead to very lonely places.
What I feel we need to hear more about is ordinary people, who have experienced mental health problems, possibly lived with those problems for most or all of their lives, and most importantly – SURVIVED.
So, who am I? My name is Ian, I’m a Christian, I’m married, I have a wonderful 8-year-old daughter whose rapid growth and maturity frightens the life out of me. I’m a local councillor in Harlow, Essex, and I’m the Council’s Mental Health Champion.
This blog will touch briefly upon the subject of suicide. I say that not for effect but as a precursor. All too often some people launch into a subject matter without any consideration of the impact of their words. A little heads up every now and again can make a difference.
So here’s a potted history. I was born 53 years ago, the youngest of four children, into a household more than familiar with mental health problems. My father had major bouts of depression as indeed did his brother. Both men took their own lives. My uncle in the 1970’s at the age of 44 and my father in the early 1980’s at the age of 58. It alarms me to know that before I had started school I was prescribed phenobarbitone (a barbiturate designed to depress the central nervous system) to “help me sleep” and combat my “overactive imagination”. Adolescence gave rise to my own depression and anxiety and this went largely unchecked until I was in my mid-twenties. Come the dawn of the new millennium I had a full blown breakdown and was admitted to hospital.
Eventually I embarked upon a course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy which equipped me with the skills to take control of my life. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as simple as that. Like playing the trumpet it doesn’t matter how much breath you’ve got if you can’t blow your own horn. I had to learn that it wasn’t selfish to put my own needs first. I feel better when I’m helping other people and if that’s something I want to do I have to look after myself in order to do it. It sounds so simple now but at the time it was an almost alien concept.
As a Mental Health Champion I look for opportunities to build relationships with service users and providers and with businesses and organisations like Smith Webb and to work find new ways to tackle stigma, to break down barriers to access to support and help and to maximise opportunities for everybody experiencing the challenges of mental health to live as enriched and enjoyable a life as anybody else.
Chloe and Jo, in my opinion, have hit upon a fantastic idea with their ethical and organic clothing project. The simplicity of their “Good Mood” and “Be Kind” branded messages belies the impact and opportunity to get people talking about how they feel and how they think we should treat others. In short – with respect.
I’m many things, but I’m not qualified to talk about fashion. But I know that my daughter is more than happy with her Smith Webb T-Shirt and although she likes mine too, she’s more interested in commenting on my “moobs” than my moods. Up until now, the only visual prompt I had to open up a discussion on mental health was a semi colon tattooed on my right hand. Now I can say “Mental Health - been there, got the T-Shirt. Literally!” and I will make sure they know where it came from!
This blog coincides with Father’s Day 2017 so here’s the challenge: come on Dads – if you don’t want to wear your heart on your sleeve, be cool and wear your mood on your tee!