Talking Saves Lives

Here's (my) why

I remember the day I got a phone call from my Dad telling me they’d found my uncle’s body. It was August 2010 and I was sat in my flat in Brighton having dinner with a friend about four weeks out from starting my third year of uni.

My uncle had taken his life by suicide after a lifelong battle with depression. He hanged himself and it had taken three weeks to find his body. He was 44. He was a doctor. He saved people’s lives for a living. He helped people get better. He took an oath to preserve the lives of others, and yet he made a choice to take his own.

This was two months after I lost my maternal uncle to a sudden heart attack. And less than two months’ later my Dad was in a near-fatal motorcycle accident.

To say it was pretty shit is an understatement.

Fast forward five years and one of my best male friends tried to take his life. Thankfully he didn’t. But I was one of only two people he opened up to and I had the privilege of helping to support him as he got his life back on track.

In December, I moved back to London after living in Melbourne for a year. No money, no relationship and no job — because I decided the 9 to 5 world was no longer for me and I wanted to start a business. And for the first time since the horrendous incidents back in 2010, I felt a sense of loss, sadness and just total loneliness that quite frankly is indescribable.

I couldn’t talk to my friends about how I was feeling because they were so happy to have me home and I was so fucking miserable. My parents didn’t get it. I kept trying to fit my square self into this round hole — and the more I tried to get things off the ground, the more lonely I felt. And nothing seemed to stick. I felt directionless, like I had no purpose.

See the thing is, I never really knew what I wanted to do. I studied philosophy at uni because I’ve always had an interest in morality and ethics. And since then, I’ve tried quite a few things… Communications roles because I was good at writing. I stumbled across CSR and loved the idea of combining profit with purpose to help have a positive impact on the world. I managed amazing volunteering programmes. I worked with incredible people. I trained as a life coach. I’ve been giving freelancing a shot — working in CSR and with entrepreneurs who are trying to have a positive impact on the world.

Looking back now as I write this I can see that the golden thread was around helping people — helping people to connect, to talk and to share their thoughts and feelings and to have a positive impact on the world, or to be a vehicle to help others so that they could feel heard, listened to, happier, more fulfilled, a sense of belonging, lighter….

And this whole time, there’s been one thing that I can’t shift — that I am passionate about men’s health. About encouraging men (as well as society) to open up and share their feelings. And about doing something to keep men alive because far too many men are dying by suicide.

I still don’t know exactly what I what to do. I can’t pretend that I have it all figured out yet. But a few things have become clear to me over the last few weeks…

Most notably that what I’m great at and passionate about is creating safe spaces for people to come together, open up and talk about what’s important to them. Everything I do is about creating communities and curating connection — particularly for men and for young people.

And that this is all anchored in opening up the conversation on the tough stuff and shining a big fucking bright light on addressing why more men under 45 are dying from suicide than anything else. Because that to me is unacceptable.

That more men should choose to end their lives than have them taken from them is something we need to take a long, hard look at.

I am pretty sure that my uncle felt he didn’t have anyone he could talk to about this stuff and that there was no safe space for him to share the challenges he was facing. But I am beyond grateful that my friend felt he could share how he was feeling with me the day after he attempted to take his life, and that he sought out the help he needed with support from those of us he chose to confide in.

There is no doubt in my mind now that talking saves lives.

And that I know my elusive ‘why’.

The how is yet to fully emerge. But I’m getting okay with that. And so for now, I’m focusing simply on creating spaces for people to come together, open up and talk about what’s important to them. Wherever that takes me and however that looks like.

And call it ironic, a silver lining, fate… But it has not escaped my attention that in doing this, I too am striving for the very same commitment my uncle had — to save lives. And that perhaps, whatever I do will ultimately contribute in some small way to keeping people alive.

If any of this resonates with you, I’d love for us to chat and perhaps create a new story. Because I don’t want to do this alone anymore. And I believe that talking saves lives.

If you’ve been affected by anything you’ve read in this blog, you can reach out to Samaritans (116 123) who operate a 24-hour service available every day of the year. CALM also operates a helpline specificlaly for men in crisis: 0800 58 58 58.

Steph Slack