More than words - First posted 20th Sept 2017
Mental health has been part of my life since I was a teenager as my dad suffered with depression. At his lowest point he had suicidal thoughts. Luckily he recovered.
From then on wards depression and poor mental health felt like a shrouded demon, sitting and brooding in the corner, just out of sight. It was always with us, just waiting for the right time to consume one of us.
It got its vengeance just over five years ago. It was terrifying to watch how quickly my dad once again descended. Officially cancer took his life, however I believe his mental health contributed to his death.
The first time my dad feel ill, it all felt quite alien, and it was not on my radar that depression could strike me or my peers. Perhaps this was due to the invincibility you can feel as a teenager, or more likely (and naively), I believed we would all make it through life unscathed. Looking back now all the warning signs where there, all the patterns, behaviours and we all had our own personal demons. I guess then and now we walk the thin line between health and depression.
Thinking back to when I was a teenager, my memory of my last day of high school was that I was filled with such a sense of relief and release. At no time did I stop to think of the future especially not of the next 25 or so years. Life happens, and here we are 25 or so years down the line.
I heard recently that yet another of my school friends has been through a tough time with their mental health, I was taken aback. But let's be honest, why should I be? We know the stats are atrocious, 71% of suicides in Scotland were by men in 2016. I've now lost count of how many class mates have gone through tough times with their mental health since we were at school, and perhaps unsurprisingly it seems to mostly (although not exclusively) be men that have faced the brunt. One of our class mates sadly took their own life a few years ago. I find myself wondering how everyone else is, and also how typical this experience is.
It's one of the reasons that as part of my day job, I knew it was important to be able to spend time working with young men. We went into a local high school (literally across the road from my school) and spent four weeks with them. We spoke to them about what it means to be a dad, and also about how to look after your mental health. It was some of the hardest work I've done, but the young men really valued it, and they told us how important it was to speak to men about how they felt.
Men are talking more, and if you've not already done so, I highly recommend checking out the powerful writing of musician Darren McGarvey (aka @lokiscottishrap) he speaks a lot of truth about men, depression and masculinity. Darren recently wrote about the death of Calum Barnes. Darren's writing felt like a call to arms, and inspired me to write this. Calum Barnes was a 21 year old rapper from Glasgow who drowned in the Clyde. I didn't know Calum, but as a man I feel responsible, Calum is yet another man we have all allowed to be consumed. We're a' jock tamson's bairns after all. My heart goes out to his family and friends.
If there is some good news in amongst all of this, it's that the suicide rates in Scotland are going down.
One death is a failure though, we need zero tolerance, I believe we can solve this and reduce the suffering. Yes its good rates are going down, though I still have a growing frustration that as a society we need a lot more.
Over the last year we've seen celebrities and members of the Royal Family talking more openly about mental health, which has been fantastic. As they say in Game of thrones, words are wind, and it's clear we need more than words (the irony of me writing about this isn't lost on me).
Two people die every day from suicide in Scotland. It's time to ask yourself, what are you going to do about it? Action is needed now, it's our only hope in defeating our demons.