aThis isn't the first time I've donated profits (such as they are) from one of my books during a given month to a charitable cause. I've donated to Wirral Ways To Recovery, a drug and alcohol support service in my home town of Birkenhead, and to the Big Issue Trust. During April and May I'm donating any profits I receive from sales of my first novel 'The World Is (Not) A Cold Dead Place' to Campaign Against Living Miserably. Though Wirral Ways To Recovery and Big Issue Trust are both causes I care about and believe in, my reasons for choosing CALM, at this time in particular, are a bit more personal.
Thanks to the work of CALM and many other organisations and individuals who are trying to challenge the stigma around mental illness, we are becoming increasingly aware of the stats; 1 in 4 people will experience some form of mental illness every year. 20.6 in every hundred people will have suicidal thoughts, while 7.3 in every hundred will self-harm in some way.
I am one of those statistics. I'm one of the 7.3. I'm one of the 20.6. I'm the 1 in 4. I have been one of those statistics for as long as I can remember. I've been self-harming in some form or another since childhood, and was first diagnosed with depression and placed on medication in my mid-teens. Since then I've experienced varying levels of mental illness, ranging from anxiety disorders to severe depression, and neurosis that bordered on psychosis, and been off and on a variety of medications.
Now, that's not something I've ever said openly, outside the confines of regular therapy sessions, or conversations with my wife, or one or two very close friends, and even then only friends who I know for a fact have experienced similar or worse mental health issues. Why is that? Well, quite simply, it's because I'm embarrassed. No, ashamed. I'm ashamed of my depression, ashamed of my anxiety disorders, ashamed of my thoughts of self-harm. It's the typical male response to something that affects so many; bury it as deep as possible, self-medicate with drink and drugs, and, no matter what, at all costs, avoid talking about it.
In recent years, I've been doing my best to overcome that innate resistance. Even being open with my wife about these things has never come naturally, but I've worked hard on being more honest with her, which is helped by the fact that she has learned to spot the warning signs of my health deteriorating, and has been very patient and supportive through what have been some very difficult times. There was one summer about four years back where my mental health deteriorated to such an extent that I was so heavily medicated, I basically slept for three months. An entire summer was more or less written off as the only way to lower the risk of me killing myself to anything like a manageable level was to drug myself to the point where I was pretty much incapable of feeling anything. This is in no way meant to be critical of anti-depressant or anti-psychotic medication. It was entirely necessary for me to be medicated to that extent at that time. Using prescription medication to combat depression or mental illness isn't just about 'taking the happy pills'. Sometimes it's as simple as keeping you alive. That was the second, and worst, breakdown I've had since being with my wife, and although it still isn't easy, being as open as I possibly can with her, and keeping in regular contact with a therapist, are two ways to try and stop things ever getting as bad as they did that summer.
But being open with a few of the people closest to you, or with someone who is paid to listen, is one thing. Being open with the wider world is another thing entirely. And that is primarily, to quote Alan Partridge, "coz I'm a bloody bloke." The stats tell us that roughly 12% of woman in the UK suffer from depression, compared with approximately 8% of men, yet over three quarters of suicides here are men. That tells us not that men suffer less, but that diagnosis is much more difficult in men because we are naturally resistant to discussing it, and this resistance is killing us,
So I'm writing about my own illness because, as with most things, writing about something is a method of processing it that comes more naturally to me than talking about it, and my hope is that in doing so, I'll be able to talk about more in the future.
Another reason I've decided to write this is that, in not being more open, I've often felt like a bit of a fraud. I'm forever telling other people that they should talk about depression and mental illnesses, either with their friends and family or with a professional. I'm always telling people that it's nothing to be ashamed of, that it isn't a form of weakness, while being guilty of exactly the kind of behaviour patterns I'm trying to discourage in them; bottling it up, believing it's a form of weakness. It seems that for many of us, even those of us who consider our attitude towards such things to be pretty evolved, it's far easier to advocate for others than it is to advocate for oneself.
I'm not stupid enough to think that me writing a blog post that only a handful of people will read and donating a few quid from my little booky wook is going to single-handedly smash the stigma of male metal illness once and for all, it's more about being a step forwards for me personally. Very few may read this, but the fact that I'm putting it out there at all is a pretty big deal for me.
Plus, while 84 men take their own lives every week, or one every two hours, in the UK alone (as illustrated by CALM's recent Project 84 campaign), and while suicide is the number one killer of men under forty five, we all have our part to play, no matter how small, in moving the conversation around mental illness, and male mental illness in particular, forward.
This is one small way in which I hope I can play my part.