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FEATURE: Caulker, Campbell and Stormzy. Diminishing the stigma and discussing mental health.

“1 in 4”  – a statistical reference commonly used in description for the number of people experiencing issues of a mental nature. Anxiety, depression, schizophrenia – the list is somewhat endless as to the suffering an individual can endure in a society so often defined by comparative perspective.

It is this comparison; so often ill-judged, that leads to over-thinking and simply a lack of love for ones self. Inspired by the stories of Michael Omari (Stormzy), Steven Caulker, Alastair Campbell and the countless bold, brave and ever-inspiring individuals, I feel it’s time we as a societal sub-section and as a generation begin to change the way we discuss mental health.

Upon hearing the news in May 2017 that Aaron Lennon; Everton winger, had been detained under the Mental Health Act, the public outpour of empathy was instant, though the ability for all to fully understand what they were reading was not so instantly forthcoming. Aaron Lennon, a 21-cap England international with 266 Spurs appearances was reportedly minutes away from taking his own life. For me personally, Lennon’s evident desperation rang a chillingly earnest truth with my personal self, though for so many this instant recognition was not immediate – and if you’ve never experienced mental health issues yourself, then of course why would recognition be instant at all?

Lennon’s detainment cried out as a stone-cold reminder to all – mental health issues can affect anyone, everyone and in any and every profession. Professional footballers are often cast into the spotlight, performers at the highest level with lavish lifestyles and adoration from all. Who wouldn’t want to be a Premier League footballer?

For two months, Aaron Lennon will have been fighting his demons, gaining strength and inspiration from all those around him, but today Lennon returned to Premier League training with Everton – it is now Lennon turning provider of such strength, inspiration and hope to so many others. Though it is this very example that serves as such a pertinent reminder to all – in two months Aaron Lennon’s mental health issues have not disappeared instantaneously, the dedication and love of Aaron himself and so many others around him have given realisation and perspective to an immense talent who has arisen from the ashes. Aaron Lennon is now a phoenix rising from the flames and the bravery of this man alongside so many others is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Perspective is the ultimate determinant of life – your life and the enrichment you gain from it is only as good as what you perceive it to be. The phrase “glass half full, not glass empty” rings an applicably earnest truth to both Aaron Lennon and the wider world, though the question remains regarding mental health. Why are we not talking about it?

I felt that as 20-year old man growing up in 21st century Britain, enduring an immensely aggressive period of depression myself, reading the statistic that suicide is the highest killer of men under-40 in the UK was simply chilling. The internet is both a positive and negative abyss of information, opinions and supposed formulas for success. Searching for the answer to cure depression felt an endless activity – in an era where Google has the answer and Facebook’s not a bad bet either, the personalised nature of mental suffering made immediate answers impossible, something had to change from within.

The support of friends, family and even the kindness of those who never knew was immense and ultimately the reason I got through it all – without a doubt the darkest days of my life came in early 2017. Though I slowly began to arise from such a darkened place, where there had been such little hope and where the colours in this world seemed that little bit darker than before. In times of struggle, it is you and you only who can find strength to see through it. Friends and family may be providers and supporters, though it is you that must ultimately make that change.

Admittance for me was the most pertinent struggle – reaching out for help meant I officially had a serious mental issue, could I deal with that? What if anyone found out? – questions that plagued my mind. Though perhaps it is telling of my personal progress that the latter question is something that seldom bothers me let alone passes my mind – I’ve suffered with depression – and I really don’t mind that you know.

Though not for reasons of empathy or sympathy, that is so far from my reason for speaking out. In the darkest days I experienced, I felt so alone. I felt like no-one else in the world was enduring these feelings and that I was simply broken goods passed their return date (still potentially true, though I state that in relative jest). Perhaps coming out the other side and seeing the light once more made me want to write this – if one single person reading this felt even the most mild emotions of relation and of resonation, it has served its purpose.

I do not wish to be a preacher, someone who claims to have been through it all and come out the other side – for we all know mental health is far more complicated than a ritual of such simplicity. Though inspired by so many; Stormzy, Steven Caulker and Alastair Campbell to name a few, I feel it’s time that we change the way we speak about mental health. Wear your battle-scars proudly, endure the bad times when they arrive but live for the moments where the sun shines brighter than ever before. To the ‘1 in 4’; I feel your pain, I feel your suffering, I relate to your experiences in such a darkened way but in a way that I understand your pain. Many generations will be remembered for achievements, accolades and awards won galore, though I was born in 1996 and this is my message.

To my generation: I can claim to speak for no-one but myself, but what if we were the generation that changed the way we discuss mental health? The generation in which acceptance arose and empathy was forthcoming – a generation that set a precedent for not just a life-time, but for the existence of a species. Depression is hard, it is testing and it is mentally cruel, it has taken me to the darkest days I’ve ever seen but at the end of the tunnel there is indeed light. Poor mental health is complex, uneasy and the single most difficult phase I’ve ever endured and seen myself through. Alongside the Caulkers, Campbell’s and Omari’s of this world – from whom I’ve taken such admiration and inspiration – I feel it is time we started speaking about it.

Written by Tom Newman.

Samaritans – 116 123 (UK)

Mind – www.mind.org.uk

Inspirited Minds – inspiritedminds.org.uk

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