Blokes and Black Dogs

Men and mental health. Most of you will already know that I can bang on about about the impacts on our inability as men to to communicate truly how we are and the reasons behind our lack of desire to appear vulnerable and so on for hours at a time. I make no apologies for this, because its bloody important! I also make no apologies for repeating statistics and facts. Some of these numbers are a stark reminder of the pain men can go through, and their occasional final and terminal response.

  • Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in UK (and other countries)
  • The highest at risk group in UK in 2014 was age 45-59. (23.9 per 100,000)
  • 4630 men died by their own hand in 2014
  • In 2014, the male rate was 16.8 suicides per 100,000 people, versus 5.2 female deaths.Capture Suicide 1

Source is 2014 Samaritans report

So what is the answer? Much cleverer people than me have thought and worked on this in recent years, but ther is no silver bullet or panacea that will suddenly transform us! We are conditoned from a young age. ‘Big boy’s dont cry’ ‘Man up, mate’ ‘Stiff upper lip, old boy’ I could go on, and I am sure we all have examples, and I am sure we have all used these and similar expressions when referring to ‘over emotional male behaviour’! Again, you may have read on my blog and Facebook feed of the work of Luke Ambler and AndysManClub in the UK. Sterling work. Around 200 men meet in 15 groups every Monday night to talk and have a cuppa. So simple yet so effective.

Whats to stop us taking up a similar initiative? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Which is exactly why I am going to do so. English speaking men in the region of Lake Leman (Lake Geneva to us non-locals….) will soon have the opportunity to meet, and share how they feel. To talk, to listen to each other, to be vulnerable, to get stuff off their chests. To cry if they feel like it. Yes I said cry. Some may want to shout and curse. Thats ok too. Express emotion and feel the release and relief of having shared the issue (issues…) that are making us feel so crap!

Working name for the group – Blokes and Black Dogs. 

First meeting planned for 26th April at the moment, venue to be clarified. Publicity and detail will follow, Facebook and Twitter accounts will be set up. 

Bear with me, I will probably overcommunicate on this. Some of the communciation will be distinctly amateur to all you professionals out there. Sorry, not sorry!

So why do we talk about the black dog? Feel a bit sorry for the dogs to be honest, they are getting a bit of a bad rap, but I guess this is the expression that has entered every day usage! Black dogs visit so many of us, and can be debilitating and destructive in many different ways. Check out the YouTube clip below to get some sort of idea how the canine metaphor can manifest itself in our lives

There are a few important tips contained in this short film, that are definitely worth repeating. I know a video 4 minutes long seems an eternity in the sound bite culture that we currently inhabit, so here are just a few points that I picked out that can help put the black dog out into the garden!

  • Be open and authentic, to friends, to family, in a peer to peer suport group.
  • Exercise. Run, walk, lift weights, play touch rugby or 5 a side football.
  • Journal. Write down how you are feeling.
  • Be thankful for what you have in life.
  • Get medical help if required.

Lets try and create a culture of helping men.

Off our trolleys?

Last night I heard some sad news. In fact more than sad, it was one of those moments when your stomach lurches, and you are hit by a wave of emotion that you are really not expecting. Claude had died. Those of us who live in and around Vevey may have been acquainted with him; he lived on the street. Just writing those words causes me to pause and reflect on what circumstances someone is forced into that situation. Stop and think about it as you step out of the shower and turn on your Nespresso machine, and decide what capsule to have with your bowl of granola.

Living. On. The Street. No bed, no bathroom or laundry. Maybe you have some food, maybe you don’t. No smartphone to check the weather and see if you are likely to die from hypothermia and related complications that night. We can’t comprehend this really. Sometimes our personal circumstances are less than perfect. OK they can be downright dreadful, relationships, work, family money all going pear-shaped. Sometimes all at the same time! The vast majority of people I know deal with struggles. As well as the material things we are blessed with, we have friends, family, a community, that surrounds us and pulls us up.

Do you have that living on the streets? Maybe. You see videos on YouTube of homeless folk sharing their good fortune with others when they get some cash or food. Here’s one, no idea if this is a set up or not, but it certainly brought a tear to my eye!

Anyway did Claude have that support around him? At least one good friend of mine looked out for him and occasionally bought him food – I won’t embarrass him, but his love for Claude was typical of the man. We at All Saints know a little about him, and our pastor Clive certainly did some digging and tried to help find a solution with the Swiss authorities. You see Claude took up residence in the bushes in our church car park. He wasn’t really a problem until his collection of shopping trolleys began to expand… does raise a bit of a sad smile to remember his corner of the car park. He wasn’t choosy, COOP, Migros, Denner, he had them all. Car parking was hazardous (OK first world problem…) By the way I am not trying to make fun of his plight, and his clear need for support and treatment. Solutions were there within the Swiss Social Services System. (So sorry, such sad alliteration) but Claude had issues with alcohol and mental health. He was a big man, and he could appear to be intimidating (though I never heard of this manifesting itself in any sort of threat) In short, he was the sort of guy that if he didn’t want to do something, persuasion might be tricky. Anyhow I am not sure how all this went down, but the bottom line is that Claude ended up back on the streets.

Could we have done more? It is pretty difficult to know. Mental health issues plus addiction equals complexity and a very messy situation. Something that needs expert care and attention, and the Vevey Commune tried. We tried. But my gut feel is that we didn’t do as much as we could. This is not criticism of any individual or organisation by the way. This brew of issues can spiral downwards, out of control and get to a point where no one knows what to do. We can all be compassionate, but it seems even professionals were at a loss to find a solution.

Claude dieds a few weeks ago. His ashes are interred at the Remembrance garden at St Martins in Vevey. A few of us will go and honour him. Let’s try and honour all the Claudes that we walk past each day.

So I will choose to remember Claude at the lakeside with his fishing rod, sunburnt, cigarette in hand. His belongings and his bottles by his side, in his shopping trolley. That seems to be where he was most at peace.

Until now.