As Chief Executive of abandofbrothers, I was delighted when the charity was awarded Time to Change funding to run our project, entitled “Man Enough.” I thought I would have much to offer the project. I have to honestly admit that I thought I would be facilitating the process of change for others rather than seeing any changes or benefits in my own life. However, the Man Enough project has taken me on a real personal journey.
Mental health issues have always loomed large within my family. Many of us have experienced episodes of mental health disruption and my great uncle took his own life when I was in my teens.
All of these events have affected me and yet they were (and are) seldom discussed in the family. Outside of my own family I witnessed a tragic suicide, being first on the scene. In the last year alone, 2 male ex colleagues have also taken their own lives. Time to change anyone?
My main episode of depression happened around 12 years ago and talking about it through this project has been of huge worth to me. It has allowed me to realise the gift of the experience (it resulted in me having to seriously re-evaluate who I was and what I stood for) and also to realise my passion for helping others in similar situations. It was extremely challenging however. I am used to running large training sessions for people who I consider my peers but actually talking about my own story in this way was more difficult (and more rewarding) than I thought.
Delivering the project has also massively changed my view of schizophrenia (although not my ability to spell it – thanks spellcheck for helping me there!) I had never encountered a person with the condition before. I had I think unconsciously adopted a view that they were dangerous, scary people who should ideally be locked away and, if not, then certainly avoided. Meeting a young man with schizophrenia and observing his troubles but also what a genuine and gentle soul he is had definitely shifted my views.
I am looking forward to continuing work on the project and to enabling the volunteers on the project to hopefully have as meaningful and rewarding an experience as I have.
I also think that within our modern and “civilised” society, we perhaps need to look a little deeper at how we chose to live our lives. In 2011, more men under 35 died from suicide in the UK than road accidents, murder and HIV/Aids combined. Men take their own lives at a rate 3 times that of women. Something is clearly not working for men. I was recently asked to contribute an article to the New Statesman website talking about this issue.