84 Men A Week Commit Suicide In The UK | How I Could Have Been One Of Them.
Men’s Mental Health:
“Suicide is painless…” sang the Manics back in ‘92. We all know that isn’t true. Anyone that has been affected by a close friend, family member or even themselves being that close to the edge, knows the heart-wrenching tragedy it leaves in its wake.
For the last couple of years, you’d be aware of recent campaigns to challenge age-old perceptions and stigma surrounding mental health issues. You know that one about stopping men having to ‘man-up’, get on with the shit that life throws us without a grumble. God forbid we should need to talk to anyone about what may be getting us down. “What are we..? pussies..! Nah, not me mate…..
But what happens when men don’t talk? Well, the pressure builds, and like a pressure cooker boiling, the stress needs to release. Some drown in drink or drugs, dish it out on their nearest and dearest or bottle it up until it becomes too much to take.
84 men a week in the UK take their own lives- Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45.
Back in March, the skyline of London became the centre of conversation around the world, because of Project 84. A campaign put together by CALM, The Campaign Against Living Miserably that will stop you in your tracks. If you don’t know what I’m on about, watch this, and you’ll understand why.
It got me thinking how this has touched many of those men but never mention it because we don’t, do we?
If I am honest and this is f*cking hard for me to admit publicly as I hadn’t until recently even told my own wife, this was very nearly me.
Six years ago I came within a split hair of ending my own life. Why? Because I felt such a failure, sounds daft now but not at the time.
My first business had gone down the pan. I was working 70/80 hours a week trying to save it. I was on the verge of a breakdown after nearly going bankrupt, and I was struggling to battle huge splits within my family that I couldn’t fix. I looked for the pain-relief inside of a bottle, but none could be found.
On top of this, I had just had my second child. I should have been overjoyed. I genuinely was. But deep down I was heartbroken about how disappointed she would be to have me as a father. She didn’t deserve to have a role model that was a failure.
They’d be better off without me, that’s what I honestly believed. Through the months of the build-up of pressure, I never actually talked to anyone about how I felt, I couldn’t. I was brought up to get on with it, what it may be, and fix it.
I’d put on a painted smile and remained on the surface the same old cheeky chappy, but inside I was rapidly crumbling, there was fog inside my head that I couldn’t clear, I couldn’t sleep and was utterly exhausted.
One morning I stood on the side of a busy road in Brighton and thought just how much easier it would be if I stepped in front of one of those lorries and disappeared.
But something stopped me. I don’t know precisely what, call it divine intervention, but thank god something stopped me.
I came to my senses and called my dearest friend and told him. Not everything for obvious reasons, and he just said don’t worry; he got me. He told me how he’d seen his own business through two recessions, and he knew just how hard it was and how I wasn’t to blame. His words and kindness had an incredible effect and I was able to reach out and get the help I needed.
Thankfully even though he was in the midst of his own battles he was there to help and without ever knowing, saved my life.
Now, having seen all that first hand, I’m a lot more aware of stress triggers, and most importantly I know that asking for help, doesn’t make me less of man. It makes me stronger knowing that I have people around me that care, and even though their own lives may be complicated and busy, they would stop and listen- all I had to do was ask.
So why am I telling you all this now? – Well, it’s down to me learning more about Project 84. It made me reflect on what could have been. Now being open about what I had been through, it might help just start a conversation with someone that might be going through a similar issue.
A few weeks ago I sat down with a very affable fella and fellow dad called Simon Vaughan. Simon is the mad creative genius and senior producer of Project 84. I wanted to know more about the story behind the campaign, so through a friend, I tracked him down and asked to meet him.
Simon struggles to explain what he does for a living. But what he does is incredible.
He says he is winging it (aren’t we all?!), but he’s a wingers winger. By that I mean he’s a master blagger that does the blagging to set up the doing – and my god does this guy do.
‘Winging it’ seems a criminal way to describe a 21st Century renaissance man who has his talented fingers in so many creative pies.
From Arts Curator of Shangri-La at Glastonbury to Culture Consultant putting on shows at the V&A he has been there, made the t-shirt, ripped the t-shirt up and sold it.
Most of all, Simon struck me as very decent and incredibly humble human-being. He was willing to open up about his struggles, tell some hilarious stories about what life is like backstage at Glastonbury and why Project 84 had to happen. In a world driven by egos, it was so refreshing to meet someone so open.
So this is Project 84 as told by one of the men behind it.
Simon: I worked with a woman called Debs Armstrong, who’s a creative director. She was approached for a friend of a friend at an agency called Adam & Eve, who had a client called CALM. They had this statistic that 84 men a week are killing themselves and wants to consider how we would do a big project to launch it.
The aim of the project was to get signups, to change legislation and make it that the government is liable for mental health death.
Debs spoke to me and said, look, we’ve got this thing for men. What can we do? I’ve been working with an artist called Mark Jenkins for about eight years. Mark is an American artist who creates hyper-realistic sculptures where you can’t see the face.
We’re going to go into I think 18 towns around the country that have one of these sculptures and each one with a figure or information on a free meeting.
ITV were keen to be involved in this, and they wanted ‘This Morning’ to be one of the backers. ‘Let’s do it down at the Southbank’; we thought we could do it in one hit. We came up with these sculptures to represent the eighty-four men that could go up on the roof.
ITV was scared. The mayor was scared. The police were frightened about the idea of people thinking they might kill themselves because it was quite impactful.
We had two hundred and ninety thousand people sign the petition urging the Government to act.
As background, we did two weeks of workshops where we got 12 families who had been affected by suicide to give us their view.
These people had their father, brother, boyfriend die. Every day I heard three stories of what had happened to these people. From their experience about how vulnerable their partner as well or how normal they were.
Before this project, even though I’m quite sympathetic about most things, I always thought suicide was an easy way out. I thought it was quite a selfish action. But having experienced this project that disappeared.
I realised that when you look at the man and ask how that man could kill himself? He’s got a two-year-old kid – Well, how can you imagine how terrible life must be for you to take it?
I went out a few nights of drinking with mates, and I started thinking about how I’ve carried my mental health issues for a long time. To test the water I began to talk to my friend about it. I was testing my friends as well to see how they react to the way I was opening up.
They were like, ‘How can we fix it and what do you want to do?” As men, we feel the need to fix things. It’s an annoying habit that even I have.
We’ll go for a process fix, fix, fix, fix, fix. Let’s do this, let’s do that or if you do that to feel better. Whereas mental health is not merely about being better. It’s about dealing. It’s not; it’s not just ‘I have a problem. I feel sad about it’. Mental health can be so imprinted within you from stuff you never realise, and it can also be chemical imbalances.
People have an imbalance, and it’s not about being fixed. It’s learning tools to deal with it, and I think that’s the critical point.
What I got from this was that it’s not about making people better. It’s just helping people, firstly, feel not alone and feel like it’s more normal. And it’s, you know, the people that say they have mental health problems are just the ones who’ve been honest actually.
It’s not about a quick fix. It’s helping someone learn how to deal with it and then say, how do we fundamentally as a society address these issues of, you know, use the term suicide.
There are so many levels to it. If it were a disability, we’d talk about it every day, but we don’t because of the stigma around it. And that needs to change.
As a direct consequence of his conversation with Simon, I’ve felt a lot more comfortable talking to people about the subject.
This has lead me to have some incredible conversations with a couple of my very close friends, one in particular opened up to me and told me of his own struggles.
This is a guy I have been close friends with for well over 30 years. We went to school together, went raving together and continue to work closely together to this day, yet we’d still never had this type of conversation before. Why?
“Because we are blokes and we don’t talk about stuff like this. How fucked up in that?….”
The Hype: Notes From The Editor:
A big thanks to Anonymous Dad for sharing his story, it can’t have been easy.
What CALM and Project 84 started, we want to help continue. It begins with provoking that conversation. Think about the next time you’re with your mates how it would feel just sticking your hand up and say, ‘You know what, I’m struggling with this or that. And I think the more people do that, and it allows other people the opportunity to have those conversations.
If you feel shit about missing kids sports day because your boss is a prick. If you felt terrible about not being home at night because you were working late because the bills are piling up. Or just that you feel shitty and you don’t know what to do. Just say it out loud, and you’ll hear ‘I’ve been there, I’ve been there as well’ You’ll soon realise how common these and so many issues are.
If it is still so hard to talk to those around you, then give CALM a call. You’ll be happy you did.
Over the next few months, we will be rolling out a great campaign in partnership with CALM to encourage dads to talk. Watch this space.
And if you want to tell your story, but want to do in a way that you can hide under the ‘Anonymous Dad’ login, then let email@example.com
Images: Courtesy of CALM