“If I had known back then what I know now,” says Oli, “I would have done so much more.”
Oli Mosse is a 21-year-old photography student, living in Manchester. But he’s not your typical 21-year-old student, and neither (by the sounds of it) are his housemates; because he and his friends run ‘Headculture,’ a local charity that, like CALM, is fighting to raise awareness and prevent suicide amongst young men.
What Oli knows now is that, on average, 3 young men kill themselves in Britain every single day of the year. What he would have done back then, had he known that, is talk more to his elder brother, Jake, who, last year, succumbed to severe depression and, tragically, took his own life.
Oli didn’t know what kind of danger his brother was in. How could he have done? The statistics are not exactly widely broadcast. The fact is: suicide risk is very poorly understood. Jake was unaware of it, as were the professionals – his GP, a counsellor – who he did talk to.
Now, Oli and his friends, Simon and Nancy, and many others, roused into action by a tragic and ultimately needless loss, dedicate a considerable amount of their time to making sure that as many people as possible are made aware of the shocking statistics about the male suicide rate in Britain.
Jake was popular, academically successful, and ambitious; according to Oli, he was also a good-looking young man, who was a hit with the ladies. Ostensibly, he had it all. But he suffered from serious, rapidly developing and under-diagnosed clinical depression – a life-threatening illness that left him isolated from friends, many of whom had left Manchester, unable to communicate his worries, or to deal with the pressures he felt at university and his concerns about his professional future.
He sought help from his GP, but was not referred on, despite scoring 100% on the test for clinical depression. Furthermore, due to the social stigma surrounding mental illness, Jake couldn’t see himself as mentally ill and, therefore, did not refer himself to available psychiatric help. Somehow, like hundreds of other men do each year, Jake slipped through the net.
Oli and several of Jake’s friends met up after Jake’s death and decided that something had to be done. They knew about the work that CALM did and resolved to do something similar on a local level, first of all to honour their brother and friend and, secondly, to raise awareness of what, for them, had become a vital, life-changing issue.
That first objective resulted in a phone-shaped bench being erected near the Manchester University student union, symbolising the need for communication; whilst the second resulted in the formation of ‘Mind your Head,’ (the first incarnation of ‘Headculture’) and a fund-raising club night at the Ram & Shackle in Fallowfield.
The next chapter begins with the name-change to ‘Headculture,’ the creation of a logo, a manifesto, a website and a presence on social networking sites. They have big ambitions, but, for now, Oli, Simon and Nancy are concentrating their efforts on raising awareness amongst the student body at Manchester’s universities – the largest student population in Europe.
To this end they took over the main tent of Manchester University’s end-of-exam Pangea Festival, transforming the main tent into an interactive chill-out area; a fun, relaxed environment where people could hang-out, listen to music, create art, and… well, talk about suicide.
For Oli, that word is the important one. At Pangea, he and his cohorts wore hoodies with ‘SUICIDE’ emblazoned across the back, putting it out there, raising questions, and, most vitally, making it an acceptable word: something that can (and should) be talked about, because it’s claiming more young male lives per year than road accidents do.
“It’s about reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness,” explains Oli, “It’s a taboo to talk about having suicidal thoughts.”
Burden of machismo
And without talking about those thoughts, there’s little chance of getting the necessary help.
For ‘Headculture,’ the aim is simple: appeal to the people that the issue is affecting, make them aware of the facts, and encourage communication; open, honest, supportive conversation, free from the burdensome restraints of machismo.
Depression is a common illness, which can affect anyone, and it can be a fatal illness. According to Oli, one of the ways to save those lives is through talking. That’s his maxim. But how does ‘Headculture’ find a way to appeal to those people and get that point across?
Well, in Manchester, Oli et al have developed strong ties with the music scene, which has become the primary medium for the charity’s message. ‘Headculture’ uses music events to raise awareness and raise funds for future club-nights and gigs, with the aim to outdo itself every time, getting bigger and better and more effective.
Before he took his own life, Jake was looking at ways in which social networking could be used to provide structures for mutual support for young men suffering from depression. At the time, due to the severity of his illness, his ideas didn’t come to fruition.
CALM salutes Oli and Simon and Nancy and everyone involved with ‘Headculture’ in Manchester for continuing in Jake’s spirit and doing such tremendous work for a cause we all believe so much in.