As a mental health warrior (or Stigma Buster as someone called me last year), I cannot let World Mental Health Day 2019 go by without writing a blog. The theme this year is suicide prevention so that’s what I want to talk about.
Anyone who knows me even superficially will know that I am a committed campaigner for better mental health. On this day last year we held the gala opening of my Open Shutters exhibition at Gallery Oldham and we organised a full day of mental health activity at Oldham Library. I was front and centre of it all, giving speeches and media interviews all day. So you might be surprised to know that World Mental Health Day 2018 was the last time I considered myself to be suicidal.
Nobody knew at the time, apart from a lovely lady from Healthy Minds – one of the exhibitors at my event – who realised that I was struggling, took me to one side and allowed me to unburden myself.
To give a little bit of context, my exhibition opened on the 15th of September last year. It featured 32 portraits of mental health survivors and promoted a positive message of hope and recovery. The subjects demonstrated how suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions could make you stronger and a better person. Obviously I still believe that. But the day my exhibition opened was also the day my marriage ended. I’m not going to go into the reasons for that now. If you saw my talk at Tedx Oldham in July then you will know a lot more about it. Let’s just say it hit me very hard.
While I was putting on a brave face and a false smile, trying to promote a positive mental health message, I felt like I was dying inside. The hypocrisy of it almost broke me. But I know from years of experience that suicide is never the answer and that those dark moments always pass. No matter how bad things seem there is always light at the end of the tunnel. It might be very very hard to find it, but it’s there. The way to find it is to talk to someone and let them help you.
Last year I found it difficult to talk to most people about what was going on because I felt like I was leading a double life, promoting my message publicly and suffering privately. But the lovely lady from Healthy Minds completely understood and she listened to me without judgement. Yes, she was a mental health professional, but more importantly she was in the right place at the right time and she wanted to listen. No matter how bleak things seem there is always someone, somewhere willing to listen. Take that first step of talking to someone and I pretty much guarantee you will start to see a little chink of light. It might be tiny to start with, but keep talking and you will eventually see that there is a way for things to get better.
Things did get better for me. It’s 12-months later and I am in a much much better place. My marriage is still over, but I have more than come to terms with that. My children and I have a lovely new home and a bright future to look forward to. My message to you on this World Mental Health Day is that, as Andy’s man Club says, it’s ok to talk. In fact it’s more than ok to talk, it’s vital. There are always people out there who will listen. Talk to your next door neighbour; talk to your teacher; talk to a parent; talk to a partner; talk to a best friend; talk to a sibling; talk to a complete stranger from Healthy Minds or talk to me. Just please talk to someone and I promise you they will help to show you that suicide is not the answer.
To borrow a quote from my friend Lisa, of the Bridge The Gap Project: “Suicide does not take away the pain. All it does it pass it to someone else.”