Unless I have bumped into him at a Test Match, I don’t recall meeting Australian sports commentator Glenn Mitchell. But I couldn’t resist posting this piece he wrote, which was sent to me on twitter via Green Party press officer Scott Redding.
Glenn’s piece makes clear they are fighting the same battles as we are, but also with the same slow but steady change in attitudes, which is why the Time to Change campaign is so important. I hope Glenn won’t mind me reprinting his piece in full here.
‘Since my life fell apart in the middle of last year due to a breakdown that resulted in me resigning my sports broadcasting position at the ABC after 21 wonderful years I have been on a steep learning curve as I endeavour to discover more about mental illness and suicide prevention.
I have always been a man who has loved statistics but the two most alarming I have ever come across are ones that I have only just discovered in recent months.
Believe it or not, in a wonderful country like Australia with all it has to offer, the greatest killer of males under the age of 44 is suicide. That’s right, more men in that demographic die by their own hand as opposed to any other fashion.
Allied to that damning statistic is yet another one – throughout Australia each year, more people die by suicide than from the aggregated road tolls across every state and territory in the country.
And when you consider that there are a number of car accidents that each year are considered to be possible suicides, yet are recorded as simply a road fatality, the gap between the two may be somewhat greater.
In so many ways, suicide is the silent killer in our society. Silent in the fact that it is not really spoken about, even now in the 21st century.
Whilst there are many different causes and triggers for suicide, depression is more often than not associated with someone taking or attempting to take their own life.
The stats that are put forward by the medical fraternity would indicate that around 20% of people in Australia will be affected by depression at some point in their lifetime and 6% will actually experience a major depressive illness – in today’s terms that equates to 4.5m and 1.4m people respectively.
When you look at it in those sorts of terms the numbers are truly staggering and alarming.
Unfortunately, in many people’s eyes there is still a stigma attached to mental health, although over time and with better education it is slowly changing.
Australian males are certainly at the head of the queue when it comes to failing to talk about such subjects. The old “she’ll be right attitude” is still very prevalent in our society.
Whilst women are more likely to express their emotions and concerns with a girlfriend over a coffee, men are more likely to either try and ignore the situation or believe that it will rectify itself. Often, both those approaches are fraught with danger.
It is time that we, as a society, realized and accepted that there is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about with regard to mental illness.
I decided to go public about my condition late last year in the hope that it may encourage some other people to take that first step and seek professional help.
Shortly after featuring in a newspaper article and a television current affairs piece, my wife and I took our young son to the Perth Royal Show.
The reaction to what I had done from total strangers was quite astounding. Many people I had never met came up to me that night to express their support and encouragement for my rehabilitation.
But what struck me most of all were the first few words that came out of their mouths. Without fail, they either said “you were very courageous” or “you were very brave” to have spoken so publicly about your condition.
I later reflected on those opening words and it indicated to me that we still have a significant way to go before mental illness is embraced within society like most other physical complaints.
Had my media appearances chronicled a battle with cancer or some other serious disease, I doubt people would have come forward and called me brave or courageous. I would think that the most common opening words might have been along the lines of “sorry to hear about your illness” or “mate, all the best”.
But when it comes to admitting a mental illness people automatically seem to view one’s public admission as an act of bravery or courage.
The question in the 21st century is why?
With regard to my own particular illness – bipolar type 2, which was finally diagnosed in early September last year – I am required to take medication for the rest of my life.
So too, are those who are afflicted by illnesses such as diabetes or asthma.
Each requires the intervention and vigilant use of medication to help maintain the individual’s well being.
Yet, if you were to ask a group of 100 people in a room to raise their hands if they suffer from diabetes or asthma you would probably see a 100% response rate from those who were affected by those illnesses.
But try asking the same question about mental illness, and believe me I have done during many of my community talks for the suicide awareness and prevention agency, One Life. Without fail, I see a very small number of raised hands when compared to the medical fraternity’s statistics that indicate the breadth of mental illness in our society.
And again, we have to ask why?
In 2012, it is high time to let go of the stigma and stereotype. Mental illness should be looked upon by all of us in the same light that we view asthma, diabetes, cancer or any other medical condition.
Shame or embarrassment should not be a determining factor in one seeking help.
And … just for the record, not once since I publicly admitted my condition has anyone called into question my decision. Everyone has been incredibly supportive and full of encouragement.
There is nothing to hide. There is no need for shame. It is not a case of being brave. It is merely a matter of facing, tackling and talking about mental illness as you would any other disease.
If as a society we could manage to achieve that we would be living in a far better place.’
Amen to that.
Ps, off now to the dentist, then towel round head in advance of Question Time – up against Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, Shirley Williams, Steve Coogan (wonder if phone-hacking will come up) and ””’Dame”” (PTSB*) Ann Leslie. Thoughts welcome on what will come up and how best to handle it.
* Pass The Sick Bag