On Friday I played a small part in the CALM takeover of Topman, to launch the new London CALMzone, at their store on Oxford Street. I interviewed some of the DJs who had very kindly agreed to come down and be a part of it. It was fairly chaotic, filming folk running around and people like Zane Lowe popping in and out, but the support that these people showed for the cause and for CALM’s message – that the silence is killing us – was incredible. We did some great stuff, patted ourselves on the back and went straight down to the pub to celebrate a job well done.
And then, over the weekend, Gary Speed, the manager of the Welsh national football team, took his own life.
The day before, he had appeared on Football Focus, a programme broadcast live. He talked about the exciting time he was having managing a rejuvenated Welsh national team. He appeared jovial, relaxed and together. He joked with friends like fellow ex-footballers Alan Shearer and Gary McAllister and made plans to see them again soon. On Sunday morning he was found dead at his home.
A lot of people have said the same thing that is often said – why? He had a beautiful family, he was wealthy and had a magnificent future ahead of him, both in and out of football. Most notably for many he seemed, just a few hours before, very relaxed and content.
It’s a good question, in the shock we need some kind of answer that makes sense of something so unexpected, but sadly the search for an adequate reason is missing the point. If we discover a reason and solve this “suicide mystery” as the press have described it, does that mean we can move on? Should we do that for the 3,421 male suicides that occurred in England and Wales last year? The reasons are important to his family, who we feel for and send our love to at this time, but explanations are not central to what we, as a society, must do now. What we must do is think about what it means when a 42 year-old man who has been hugely successful, is massively talented and has a very exciting future ahead of him decides to take his own life. Why does it happen so often, day in and day out, in our country? Why are 75% of all suicides male? What is it about being a male that means you’re 3 times as likely to complete suicide?
It is good to ask people – friends, family and even strangers who we feel the need to – how they are feeling. In fact, it’s great, and we should do it more often. But we must also work to change the perception that we actually want to hear the answer.
Gary Speed seemed happy. Maybe he was, in the moments he spoke to friends, maybe that’s exactly what made him happiest. But this is in the context of a society where people, especially men, still often feel unable to say how they are truly feeling and to trust that others will listen to them.
We can ask the question, ‘how are you feeling?’, but if someone doesn’t trust that they won’t be thought less of if they answer honestly then what’s the point of asking the question? And this isn’t just an issue for footballers or sportsmen, we need to get this right for every man, as suicide and mental health problems don’t discriminate, they don’t just affect the rich, the poor, the young or the old. This is something we ALL have to do something about.
As a society, we need to open up. We need to talk to each other, we need to listen to each other and we need to show everyone, absolutely everyone, the same respect that will help them to know that they are a human being and that they are not alone.
CALM’s message and your support for this work, which enables them to support men with their helpline, website and London text service, has never been so important.
Everyone involved on Friday did some good work. But there’s still so much more to do…