Twitter tells me that it’s world mental health day today. It also tells me it’s world porridge day, so I hope you’ve all enjoyed a good hearty bowl of porridge (I favour a golden syrup with banana).
Mental Health is something very close to my heart, Suicide is now one of the leading causes of death in this country, especially amongst young men, it is believed that 90% of these people have a mental health condition. I honestly believe that the best thing we can do, is to talk about it, it is still such a taboo. If we had the flu, it would be perfectly acceptable to phone in sick, stay home, look after ourselves and get better. Mental Health needs to be the same, depression and other mental health conditions are illnesses. But we don’t call in sick, we don’t always seek help, and I think one of the reasons for that is that it’s just not talked about.
8 years ago, my Dad hanged himself. Not long after I started hearing rumours that he must have had cancer or been very ill. He hadn’t. He killed himself, I didn’t hear anyone suggest that he might have been depressed.
Over the years I’ve gone through sadness, anger, confusion, and back again many times over. I’ve accepted that he probably was depressed, I used to hate that I’d never be able to ask him why, I’d never be able to understand. But if I’m being honest I know, I knew my dad, if I could say to him “why did you do it? Were you depressed?” he would say “No, I’d just had enough”. He was a stubborn old man, it wouldn’t have occurred to him that feeling that much like he’d had enough of life, probably did mean he was depressed, and if it did he wouldn’t have said anything anyway. The only time I ever remember him going to the Doctors was when he broke his leg.
When I was 16 my parents broke up, then my Dad was made redundant from his job. We were very close, there was never a question of which parent I would live with, I was the absolute epitome of the daddy’s girl. So when I was 18, I decided to stay at home for university. He hadn’t been on his own long, and I didn’t want to leave him. By the time I was 20, we agreed it was time for me to move, I wasn’t spending a massive amount of time at home anyway, I could visit all the time, and he was fine, he’d adjusted to his new life and seemed happy enough. He didn’t go out much, but he never really had, he was a home body, he was friends with our neighbours and spoke to them every day, I wasn’t worried.
For the first year of me living away I spoke to him on the phone most days, and went home almost every weekend. Then suddenly one day he stopped talking to me. Over something really really small. He hung up on me, and literally never spoke to me again. Ignored my calls, my cards, everything. Even now I think I should have tried harder, I should have just gone home to see him. But I didn’t, the last thing he’d said to me was “you’re just like your mother”, and he really hated her at that point, it had hurt me, I hadn’t done anything to deserve that. So I didn’t try harder, because every rejection added to the hurt. So now that will always be the last thing he ever said to me.
Family members have since suggested he was pushing me away, that even then, a year before, he was already thinking about it, and this would make it easier, for me and for him. This is a nice thought, but it didn’t make it easier for me at all.
I remember when I had to go back into our house. He hadn’t been found for a few days, and the smell is something I will never forget. But there was also a sense of relief. I had worried that because he’d killed himself, he must have been horribly unhappy. I was expecting the house to be in a state, for there to be signs of his unhappiness. It was completely normal. There was a finished cup of tea left on his desk, the washing had been put away. There was food in the fridge. This did bring me some comfort. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t depressed. Being able to function normally doesn’t mean you aren’t depressed.
I hope sharing this, encourages people to talk about their own experiences, or feelings. I read today that 1 in 4 people in the UK will at some point have a mental health issue. I bet not that many of us get the flu this winter. Please, please, let’s talk mental health.