Quite of few of these blog posts are responses to something I have watched, heard or read. I recently saw a very moving documentary on Channel 5 about six men who attend a mental health centre in west London. Their ages range from 18 to 60 and they all have one thing in common: each has either tried to take his own life or has been in serious danger of doing so.
In the UK a man takes his own life every two hours. Yet what leads them to this momentous decision can be a mystery even to those who know them intimately. Here we had six examples of the different paths people can take. One young man has been bullied at school and has a history of self-harming and attempts to end his life. One, slightly older, has had a succession of devastating bereavements which have knocked him sideways and left him apparently without hope. The older man feels his life has been a failure and that he hasn't lived up to his own expectations. Now his partner is dying and he keeps visiting her in the hospice, knowing that he will soon be utterly bereft. Then he knows what he is going to do.
One case that I found particularly poignant was Stewart, a lance corporal who explained how "masculinity" didn't allow him to express his feelings. For him as a soldier "going out, having a fight... that was a stress coping mechanism. But today it's not acceptable." He was depressed – "a bag of spiders in my head" – but didn't know how to express it. He was overthinking everything, he explained, and turned to alcohol to numb himself. Kicked out of his home he had to leave his six children behind. Then, tanked up with alcohol, he drove his car deliberately into a motorway barrier. He survived.
Even back when he was 17 Stewart knew he needed help. "Showing emotion felt like a weakness to me. If you open up how you're feeling you look vulnerable." Yet he came to the realisation that talking could help. "It's gone too far. And not talking about my problems has not helped whatsoever. I'm the total opposite now: I can talk to anyone who wants to hear about it."
Stewart is now back with his family and has left the Armed Forces.
I found this moving as well as inspiring. In some of the six cases it looked as if the men had found a potentially happier path, Stewart being one. His masculinity, and probably being in the army, had discouraged him from accepting his own vulnerability. Now, it seems, after talking to people, he accepts and perhaps embraces it. It's a lesson for all of us.