“There’s more to me than the glitz and glamour that you see on Strictly Come Dancing. We all bear the same issues. Some people choose to talk about it, some people need to learn to talk about it, but if we can make it a safe place for people to communicate, then I think we’ll see a rise in people reaching out to others. I want people to know that it’s okay to talk to somebody. It’s not about giving advice, it’s just about being a listening ear.”
It’s taken a long time for Shirley Ballas and her mother to let go of the guilt they felt after losing David, but after some professional help they realised they’re not to blame for what happened. Instead, Shirley understands how damaging it can be when people feel they can’t talk when they’re finding things tough, especially men:
“If you can, find someone to talk to who you can really trust. People find it embarrassing to talk about their mental health because there’s still a stigma around it. When my brother died, he was a big stocky fella who didn’t want to talk and we didn’t know what he was going through. Now, 17 years later, we know a lot more about mental wellbeing which is encouraging.
“Things are getting better and there are so many places you can reach out to now. You can reach out to charities like CALM, knowing they’re willing to listen to what you say in the strictest of confidence and at a time that’s suitable for you.”
Talking about what happened to her brother hasn’t come easy to Shirley, who says she thinks about him every day. Her focus now isn’t just helping others to talk, it’s on keeping David’s memory alive and working to prevent others being in the same situation:
“You never get over losing someone to suicide. People say ‘oh in time’, but every single day there’s a reminder. We had counselling because we felt we could have done more to save his life and since that process we’ve been able to talk about David, remember the good times and talk about him with great love.
“Will it get easier? I’m not sure it gets easier, it just gets different. As a family we choose to keep my brother’s memory very much alive. He’s talked about constantly and we’re always sharing his story in the hope it will help somebody else out there.”