Jonny Sharples is a writer and a campaigner for CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) who lost his brother to suicide in 2014
Piers Morgan has spent the last week, which coincidentally has been Mental Health Awareness Week, lambasting mental health sufferers and encouraging them to “man up”, “get a grip” and championing a stiff upper lip. In short, Morgan wanted those who have issues such as depression and anxiety to keep their problems to themselves, and attempt to carry on with their lives as if they weren’t attempting to battle a crippling condition. It is a perilous position to take, especially where men’s mental health is concerned.
Usually it would be wise to ignore anything the former News of the World editor has to say, especially when Morgan himself seems to be so confused and at odds with the point he is trying to make. A cursory glance at his Twitter account will show you a weeks’ worth of comments ranging from criticising high profile celebrities who have spoken openly about their mental health to claiming he has not mentioned mental illness at all, and from stating that people with ‘genuine’ mental illness must be helped to discouraging those with mental health conditions from speaking out.
The latter point is why we, unfortunately, must give Piers Morgan the attention he seems to be craving at this juncture; by using his Twitter account to inform his near six million followers that they should “man up”, then he is becoming implicit in something that takes away 12 men every single day. In advocating people to keep their problems to themselves, to bottle them up, and to try and power through their negative thoughts, feelings or compulsions then he must take on some responsibility for the continuing stigma surrounding mental health issues.
Research conducted by the suicide prevention charity CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) has found that 42% of men in the United Kingdom aged between 18 and 45 have contemplated taking their own lives. Further statistics show that 41% of those who had considered suicide felt like they couldn’t talk about their feelings, and 32% said that they “didn’t want people to worry about them”. In using his platform and his fame to dissuade those people too worried to talk about their feelings from opening up to somebody then he is playing a role in the deaths of those men who reach a point where they see no way out but to take their own lives.
In 2014, 4,623 men took their own lives in the UK – one man every two hours. Suicide is now this country’s biggest killer of men under the age of 45, and 76% of suicides are men. Piers Morgan’s comments only serve to continue the stigma around men’s mental health, and around coming forward and seeking help – his views on an outdated and old-fashioned ideal of masculinity are reinforcing the belief that men should not seek help because it would make them seem less of a man, that it would be a sign of weakness or an admission of failure. It isn’t any of those things, to seek help for mental health issues is a brave step to take and one that many people spend agonising over doing – not wanting to burden somebody, or simply not knowing where to turn.
Instead of using his position to denounce those that require support for depression or anxiety, Piers Morgan should consider using his platform to encourage people to seek help and signpost them towards charities or agencies that can assist with their ongoing battle. There is no shame in wanting to speak to somebody about your innermost thoughts and feelings: it is something that society should be encouraging. To do the opposite and tell people that problems can be easily ignored and worked through, like Morgan is doing, can allow thoughts to fester and snowball – becoming bigger issues - and may lead down a path where suicide seems to be the solution.
While Morgan’s tweets suggests that he does not see value in high profile celebrities speaking about their own mental health issues and endorsing mental health charities, they do have a significant role to play. In publicly opening up about their own history of depression and anxiety, the likes of Prince Harry, Stormzy, Bruce Springsteen and Andrew Flintoff are giving value to the idea of being candid about your mental health. They can be role models to those who may be suffering in silence, wanting to follow the lead of somebody they admire in being forward about their own issues. They can show that mental health issues can impact on anybody, regardless of perceived levels of fame, talent or wealth, and they can underline the fact that these illnesses can have an effect on anybody – a prince, a world-famous musician, a sporting superstar, somebody you work with, one of your best friends, or your brother.
In December 2014, my own brother was one of the 4,623 men that took their own lives that year. In the time that has passed since I have attempted to raise awareness about the statistics around men’s mental health and suicide. I have tried to fundraise for CALM in memory of my brother, so that they can continue their valuable work in assisting those in crisis to get the help that they require. In the time that has passed since I have also been worn down by the belief that men can combat their problems simply by remaining silent; those comments can stir memories of when I found out that I’d never get speak to my brother again. It is tiring to still be fighting against people that think someone like my brother is selfish, weak, or a coward. He was none of those things – he was my brother. If one of the strongest men I know could have issues or problems that they could not contend with, even just for a split second, then anybody could.
As tiring and as wearing as those comments can be, they do not make me want to stop or to give up – instead they drive me forward to try and make sure others do not have to live through the pain that my family lived through, to spend the months and year since asking why, and to wish he got the help that he needed.
Perhaps one of the reasons he didn’t seek help, and to speak to somebody about whatever was going through his mind, was because society and those with a platform in it told him that he would be better served in keeping those thoughts to himself – in the end it was those thoughts that killed him.
CALM have found that only 20% of people in the United Kingdom know that suicide is the most likely cause of death for men under the age of 45: perhaps that is why Piers Morgan does not understand what encouraging men to “get a grip” and to “man up” is doing. Instead of recommending a stiff upper lip, perhaps Morgan can use his place in the world more positively; to encourage people to seek help when they need it, to speak out, to reduce stigma. It will keep brothers alive. It will keep fathers and sons alive. It will keep husbands and boyfriends alive. It will keep friends alive. It will keep people alive.
Those who are struggling can find help or support with;
- The Samaritans: 116 123 (Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year)
- CALM: 0800 58 58 58 (Open 5pm - midnight, 365 days a year)
- PAPYRUS: 0800 068 41 41 (Open 10am - 10pm weekdays, 2pm - 10pm weekends, 2pm - 5pm Bank Holidays)
- Mind: 0300 123 3393 (Open 9am – 6pm Monday to Friday, except for Bank Holidays)