*Warning, this article contains discussions around mental health and suicide. The author of this article is not a medical professional and would therefore encourage any readers who have been affected by this content to get in touch with the mental health and suicide prevention charity CALM. Their contact details are at the bottom of the article*
Suicide remains the largest killer of men in the United Kingdom, with an average of 12 deaths per day. An agonizing statistic which drives FC Not Alone and I to do as much as we feasibly can to reduce these numbers and provide a source of help in any possible capacity.
One man who is educated and ingrained in the campaign against mental health and suicide stigmas is Jonny Gabriel, better known as Jonny Sharples to his social media followers. His brother, Simon, passed away to suicide in 2014, but Jonny has been determined in extending Simon’s life through the incredible work he does for mental health charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably).
Subsequently, Jonny is now an official ambassador for CALM where he is able to continue his amazing commitments to mental health and suicide awareness and prolonging his brother’s memory. Aside from this commitment, Jonny has his finger on the pulse when it comes to his use of memes and jokes on Twitter where he regularly posts hilarious content, earning him a large following, and has extremely good (or really, really bad, depends how you look at it…) taste in football clubs.
I was lucky enough to catch up with him to ask a few questions during Mental Health Awareness Week.
Since the passing of your brother, Simon, in 2014, how have you become involved with mental health charity CALM?
When my brother passed away in December 2014, my Dad decided we should raise some money for a charity that would help men just like Simon and, after a quick search on Google, we settled on CALM. I shared the link on Twitter and we quickly surpassed the original £200 target, from then on I continued to find ways to fundraise and support CALM; writing about Simon in an exchange for a donation, selling football programmes for a fictional footballer’s testimonial, all the normal things.
I also became involved with various campaigns run by CALM such as Project84, where 84 statues representing real men lost to suicide were installed on the South Bank in London, and eventually I was invited to become an ambassador for CALM – sharing their message online and offline, meeting with people, and discussing the incredible, vital work that CALM are continuing to do.
Since then, have you noticed any changes in regard to conversations surrounding death by suicide within male groups?
I think there has been an increased focus around mental health, and men’s mental health in particular, over the last few years. High profile people are now more willing to be open and discuss their own issues, whereas historically they may be unwilling to do so because of the reaction of the media and wider society (The Sun’s Bonkers Bruno headline immediately comes to mind), but now we are more acutely aware of our mental wellbeing and this has allowed more honest and frequent conversations to take place.
I also think we’ve moved away from the stereotypical, outdated view of what it is to be a man and what a man’s role and responsibility should ‘ideally’ look like and acknowledge more the pressures that are put on everybody and the stresses and strains that these can cause. There is still some way to go for wider society to fully understand and educate ourselves in regards to certain mental health issues – things such as psychosis and schizophrenia still have a lot of stigma attached – but there has been a real movement and drive in the right direction.
What have you found valuable in regard to support following Simon’s death?
I have found it easier to be open and honest with people in regards to my own wellbeing and mental health, and I have found people willing to listen to me speaking – from friends and family to people that I know through social media – and offering support and their own experiences to help manage things.
I have also found things such as running, sport, and video games have offered various forms of release and escape in order to better manage my own wellbeing, and improve my own mental health.
From your subsequent involvement with CALM and general mental health discussion, what more do you think can be done to help break the stigma of mental health and suicide rates among men?
There’s been a lot of shifts in breaking the stigma in recent years, but I still do think there is a long way for us to come. While charities are fantastic in offering a safety net and somewhere free and confidential for people to turn to in times of need, there does need to be professional, clinical services that people can go to as soon as they need it, and that can only come from increased funding to those services.
We also need to better understand the root causes for the suicide rates and examine what can be done to improve societal issues that have resulted in them: access to housing, benefits, societal acceptance of sexuality and race, etc. There must also be a continued effort to distance ourselves from the outdated ideal of masculinity, and allow men the space to discuss their issues without fear of judgement or ridicule.
This week’s mental health awareness week focuses on nature; how do you believe nature can be of benefit to those suffering with their own mental health issues?
Nature and the outdoors can certainly benefit people’s wellbeing, having time away from the pressures of work or of life, having some peace away from the noise, hustle and bustle of society can really make a difference to our mood and how we feel.
And lastly: Ivica Strok or Allan Saint-Maximin?
You wouldn’t ask a parent to choose their favourite child! With that said, once Allan Saint-Maximin has won me four Champions Leagues, numerous league titles and found his way into the National Football Museum maybe then we can talk!
You can contact the CALM helpline between 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year or if you are in need of text-based support, you can use their webchat facility.
CALM helpline numbers:
Nationwide – 0800 58 58 58 | London – 0808 802 58 58
Webchat available at thecalmzone.net