If you’re a man under the age of 45 the thing most likely to kill you, is you.
According to the Office of National Statistics, 2017 saw 5,821 deaths by suicide; of this 4,382 of these were men. This number is higher than deaths caused by road traffic accidents and cancer for men under 45. So what is pushing so many men to make such an extreme choice.
Mark Williams, 44 from Bridgend in Wales battled through years of PTSD and depression after witnessing the traumatic birth of his son in 2004.
‘I couldn’t tell anyone, couldn’t tell my best friends because it’s hard enough for a man to talk about depression but what have you got to be depressed about?’
‘Down to what I know now the first ever time I had a panic attack was when I found out my wife was going in for an emergency c-section, instantly I went into a panic attack thinking my wife and me were going to die. So obviously they rushed into the theatre as I was having a panic attack and thought, ‘Hang on, I’ve got to be the man here, my wife should be having the attention not me.
‘I’ve worked in security for the past ten years and have seen loads of different things. Seeing your wife go through that labour experience was far worse than seeing someone unfortunately hanging or self-harming. I couldn’t deal with it at the time’.
Mark’s mental health continued to deteriorate once home from the hospital, his wife Michelle’s own battle with post-natal depression being a catalyst. ‘She didn’t want to be here anymore. I witnessed her try to takeher own life.
‘Thinking she didn’t want to be here anymore with me, I started doubting myself, I gave up work for six months so no money coming in, I’ve got a mortgage to pay and the pressures of fatherhood. I couldn’t tell anyone, couldn’t tell my best friends because it’s hard enough for a man to talk about depression but what have you got to be depressed about? I’ve got a baby, a wife, a house’.
Feeling as though you can’t talk is a trait shared by a huge number of men. Dr. Andrew Mayers is a psychologist who specialises in mental health. ‘There is this masculine thing where you don’t talk about your emotions, you man up. This is incredibly dangerous because what you’re effectively doing by ‘manning up’ is you’re suppressing those emotions to the point where you’re not actually dealing with them. You’re pushing them away, and what happens then is that they fester. Then when it comes to an absolute crisis point, you have absolutely no idea and is it any wonder that the next step for many men is just to either harm themselves or take their own lives?’
‘It completely came out of the blue, we didn’t know why, we still don’t really know why he chose to do it. He’d had no contact with any mental health services, as far as we were concerned he was fine’
Mark and Dr. Mayers have worked tirelessly together campaigning for better mental health awareness. Dr. Mayers believes the first step to achieve this should be better education on the subject from a young age. ‘A lot of the focus is beginning to look at getting adolescent males to talk about it more and we then put it part of the culture’.
From left: Mark Williams, Sharin Baldwin and Dr. Andrew Mayers at the 2017-18 Unite-CPHVA Conference
Many believe early education on mental health is the key to reducing mental health issues. Matthew Smith is a founding member of the If U Care Share charity, which was set up in memory of his brother, Dan, who took his own life at the age of 19. ‘It completely came out of the blue, we didn’t know why, we still don’t really know why he chose to do it. He’d had no contact with any mental health services, as far as we were concerned he was fine’.
Aged just 10 when he lost his brother, Matthew can’t stress the importance of education from an early age enough ‘The only way it’s gonna change is actually if we normalise this conversation from three or four upwards, and it can’t just be this little thing on the side it has to just be a normal conversation. A bit like the way P.E is integrated in, and you have to have your 40 mins of exercise, what are you doing to look after your mind too?
‘My mam and dad never really got told when they were younger that is was okay to cry, especially my dad, if he was never educated on it, why would he have educated me? Why would he have educated Dan?
‘Our three main aims of prevention, intervention and supporting the bereaved has kind of stuck all the way through. We don’t claim to be experts, you know we’re people that have quite literally been there and got the t-shirt’.
Around a decade ago there was a spate of suicides among young people in Mark’s hometown. Although there was no clear cause to the heightened numbers, the media sensationalising it has been considered a catalyst. It was around this time Mark started to educate himself on mental health. ‘I started educating myself a little bit, but I still didn’t get the help because I was worried it was going to go on my doctors reports so I wouldn’t get a job, and as a man you provide for your family, if I cant get a job that means I’m not doing my duty as a man. If I’m honest with you I was so ill I think if it wasn’t for my son I would have quite happily have done it, take my own life’.
Mark’s son turned 14 earlier this month. Both him and his wife Michelle managed to get through their incredibly trying times and both campaign for better mental health awareness and dream of a future where the stigma is no longer there. ‘Looking back though I’m glad it all happened, I’m more educated, my son is more educated probably more than anyone else in his school. Because we talk about it’.
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Interview with Stephen Manderson AKA Professor Green- Radio