By now you have probably heard of this art installation “84 Men” by Marc Jenkins at the ITV studios on the South Bank in London. It represents the 84 men who end their life each week in the UK. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45, this is still shocking to me no matter how often I hear it.
Image taken from https://www.thecalmzone.net/2018/03/the-stories-of-project84/
Art can be a powerful messenger and whether people connect with this or not , consider it to be ‘good’ art or not I hope it will raise awareness and facilitate a conversation about the loneliness and vulnerability of people on the edge of a precipice.
For many of us talking about mental health is difficult, there is still a stigma (in my experience) and often a feeling of having failed in some way when we experience problems like depression and anxiety. We can become adept at hiding our feelings, putting on a brave face and pretending everything is ok. Because when we are suffering what is worse than the illness itself is the crippling isolation that comes from sharing your feelings with someone only to be told to pull yourself together, count your blessings, ‘man up’. In a culture that struggles to see vulnerability as something other than weakness it can be particularly hard for men to reach out for help, to say they are hurting.
On the flip side, well intentioned family and friends can try to cheer us up, distract us and rescue us leaving us feeling unheard or obligated to reassure them that we are fine really, they don’t have to worry about us.
“84 Men” was made in collaboration with CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). Their website https://www.thecalmzone.net offers advice to people experiencing suicidal feelings and those supporting them.
If you are concerned that someone you know may be experiencing low mood or depression there are a few things you can do to support them (there is more advice about this on the CALM website):
Ask them – “you seem a little low, are you ok?” If you want to talk I’m here to listen”. You don’t have to ask them lots of questions, just let them know you are available to talk (or not talk, just be together) if that’s what they need.
Don’t expect reasons or explanations – sometimes there aren’t obvious reasons for someone feeling low, from the outside they may have everything they (or you!) want but sadness doesn’t care how successful or attractive you are, it’s the feelings that are important, the reasons can be explored another time.
Listen – this can be very difficult when you want to make something better for someone, you want to reassure them, offer solutions, make them ok. This is understandable but for someone who is experiencing depression it can be overwhelming. By listening to them you offer them the chance not just to offload but to really be heard, this reduces the feeling of loneliness and isolation that is so painful for people experiencing low mood.
Support them in getting help – suggest that they see their GP, you can offer to go with them if it helps. No-one will force them to go on medication, but the GP should be made aware that there is an issue and can explore different treatment options.
Look after yourself – it can be challenging supporting someone with depression, particularly if you are close to them so try to make time for yourself and recharge your batteries.