Last Thursday as I finished weighing up the pak choi crop in Old Harbour, Jamaica I went online and to find what’s going on in UK radio land. and settled on sports radio station Talksport. The programme on (7pm UK time) was a discussion on mental health.
The show was co-hosted by Mark Saggers and former footballer turn broadcaster, Stan Collymore. The theme of that show “Time to talk, Time to Change” and focused on how sporting professionals have faced up to their own mental health challenges. The programme included input from professionals in the field of mental health and contributions from the Charity Time to Change.
“Thursday 6 February is the first ever Time to Talk Day: 24 hours in which to start conversations about mental health, raise awareness and share the message that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, neither is talking about it.” – Time for Change
They talked frankly about those periods of being in a dark place and not knowing what do to change their circumstances.
- what happens next when their high profile career is over?
- fear at not wanting to face the world,
- feeling low and helpless,
- withdrawing from friends and family
- not wanting to get up from their bed,
- finding it difficult to do normal things.
The purpose of the show was to inform and remind listeners (that are aware of mental health) of the importance of talking with friends, family, charities or mental health professionals. That there is help out there and not to suffer in silence. It is also so important that we listen when that call does come in or see that loved one in person too. It is also vital to listen to what our loved ones are not saying.
The programme highlighted the high levels of mental health issues within the male Afro-Caribbean community. It is widely known that people from that community in the UK are more likely to be diagnosed with mental health problems than any other group. [Some experts put the figure at 1 in 4 adults that suffer from some form of mental health illness in the UK] I recall in 2005 a Canadian friend – when studying at Kings College- being disturbed by the number of black men she came across in mental health institutions when doing her field studies.
Some of us have had a skeptical approach to anyone suffering from mental health issues. Especially if it affects someone known to be in a well paid profession. Who can remember that sun newspapers “Bonkers” headline on former boxer Frank Bruno? I recall when Collymore did first open up about his mental health issues. He was publicly ridiculed by some in the football industry whether fan or professional because he was well paid.
But cricketer Marcus Trescothick’s autobiography proved a critical turning point for [many whole follow sports] as the former England player was frank about his own periods of depression. The book won William Hill sports book of the year in 2008.
One person that I really wished had listened to the discussion was my own brother David [who was a regular Talksport listener and contributor]. 11 months ago David took his life and at the time of his passing left a 11 page letter explaining how depression had knocked his well being and why he gave up an a life that had more to give.
Were the signs of signs of depression there and those of us we didn’t notice? Did he talk to anyone? Were we listening to what was said (or not being said). The isolation, the lack of confidence, self pity, self blame. Maybe it was there but we were not aware.
I for one am grateful to have had family and friends in Jamaica, UK and Canada to talk frankly about my own emotions since David’s passing. That kind of support, interest and encouragement has been crucial for my own well being. It allowed me the freedom to be open and honest without any fear or pride.
Got to admire a national commercial station such as Talksport for giving 2 solid hours to a topic that needs our attention, awareness and understanding. Let’s keep talking. Keep our eyes open. Have a hug. Let’s listen. Bill Withers’ “Lean on me” says it all.