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Ride on Nelly: the inspiration behind Tour De Test Valley

I lost my best friend Nelson Pratt to suicide in June 2012. A piercing thunderbolt bolt straight through the heart to say the least.

Outwardly Nelson had it all, an exceptionally talented professional snowboarder, coach to olympic bronze medalist Jenny Jones, loved and cherished by a wonderful family, the most popular person I knew with friends in all corners of the globe, a keen cyclist, and never struggled with female admirers who were drawn to his humble charm, unflinching modesty and impeccable manners. To say he’s sorely missed is an understatement of epic proportions.

I knew Nelson struggled with bouts of depression and anxiety, we talked a huge amount as I myself have suffered, but he had never mentioned ending his life, not once. It just didn’t seem an option with the future his life could hold, and the opportunities that lay ahead.

This fact alone in Nelson’s story, and tragically mirrored by many suicide cases, is the crux of the problem. Men just don’t feel able to talk about their deepest issues and fears, to do so is weak, its failing, it goes against every grain and sinew of the male culture and existence. Men are supposed to be strong, tough, resilient, to be the breadwinner and able to deal with pressure. To admit defeat seems impossible, and often even more tragic - talking to family and closest friends can be the biggest challenge of all, as the weight of expectation and shame can prove too heavy to admit weakness to loved ones.

In me, his best friend, Nelson had a sympathetic, experienced, non-judgemental ear - but even then he couldn’t reach into the deepest corners of his troubled soul and admit the voices that eventually drove him to hang himself. In a fit of fury, frustration, loneliness and shame, cruelly snatching his life away from his family and loving friends for ever.

The other chilling fact is that often when men do pluck up the courage to seek medical advice, they are often failed miserably by GP’s and dwindling mental health services in their area. Nelson was told he’s have to wait six weeks for CBT therapy, despite scoring extremely high on an anxiety questionnaire. He was sent away with no more than a link to a website and a couple of leaflets. Two days later he was dead. I truly hope this changes, and the promises of increased funding to mental health comes to fruition - because my god it’s needed, men have to have confidence in what they see and feel.

The facts surrounding male suicide resonate with Nelson’s story so clearly it’s scary. Suicide is the largest killer of men under 45 in the UK. Of these suicides 76% are men. That means 12 men a day are committing suicide, costing the country roughly £20 million a day. If this list of facts doesn’t make you gasp for breath then I’m not sure what will.

These facts are just not known enough. Nationally only 29 people in every 100 correctly identify suicide as the single biggest killer of men. Scary.

Following Nelson’s death his brother and I started working with CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) and set up a cycle sportive in his honour called Nelson’s Tour de Test Valley. We loved CALM’s fresh, progressive, and gender specific approach to tackling male suicide. We wanted to create something positive from such a tragic story, help raise awareness of the issue and reduce stigma surrounding mental health, raising crucial funds for CALM so they could continue to tackle the problem head on.

In the last 3 years the event has raised over £130,000, with nearly 3000 riders taking part so far - we’ve a long way to go but we know Nelson would be proud, and we know people are talking more about their own issues and worries which is huge for us.

So it’s pretty obvious raising awareness of male suicide, mental health issues, and the massive stigma surrounding both that keeps men so silent, and so at risk - is a massive ongoing challenge, requiring serious clout to cut through the noise and make a true impact. This is where the ‘Heads Together’ campaign supported by the Royal Foundation steps in. There are not many male role models these days, least of all one that demands the media attention of the Duke of Cambridge. I am so chuffed the Royal Foundation is getting behind mental health, it’s exactly what it needs to help the wall of shame be smashed down. These eye watering facts have to become public, the stigma has be slashed, men have to be encouraged to talk by other male figures they respect, and there has to people there to listen to them. CALM has a helpline providing phone and webchat, so CALM is ready at the front line.

If you’d like to support CALM and it’s fight to reduce male suicide, and raise some pennies, dig your bike out for the garage and come and ride Nelson’s Tour de Test Valley on 17th September. You’ll have one of the funnest days on a bike ever. Nelson lives on, and rides with us every day.

‘Ride on Nelly.’