I cannot pretend to know the statistics on mental health issues and suicide in Gibraltar, nor am I an expert on the subject, or a psychologist or counsellor. But what I do know anecdotally is that male suicide among men in Gibraltar has increased dramatically these last few years; indeed, it seems like the world over. In fact, it is more likely for men to attempt the act of suicide than women, who apparently think about it much more but do not act on it.
I also know, first hand, what it’s like to deal with mental health issues in the family, my own depression and PTSD during darker times and processing the attempted suicide of my teenage son, which luckily failed. These times of pandemic crisis have pushed many of us to internally focus and self-reflect, it has made emotions more acute… the outcome for many has been depression and numbness; for others self-care, self-love, and resilience. So it’s no wonder that people have been happy and willing to talk the real stuff with us on Let’s Talk Real Gib Instagram podchats page, in order to empower others and heal from the 2020 wounds.
Let’s Talk Real Gib has given my son Simon and I an opportunity to share and chat about why we need to talk openly about male suicide, to drive home the message that it’s OK not to be OK and that we must seek support somehow and not suffer in silence. Three podchats feature on mental health/suicide. Simon talks about why he jumped off a nine-metre wall in October 2016 and I talk about how I dealt with it. Tony Gaul MBE, ex-army PT and currently a police officer, who featured in a powerful GBC City Pulse programme, chats with Simon about his attempts at suicide and his PTSD. Powerful, dramatic, empowering, heavy stuff – but so necessary to hear.
It is more likely for men to attempt suicide than women.
And why men? What is it about men making them more likely to commit suicide, Tony asks? Apart from the drivers of his life circumstances of childhood abuse and pent up anger, the lessons this alpha male had drummed into him reflect a patriarchal commonality: that real men don’t show emotions, or cry, or show any vulnerabilities; that winning and competing with others are the most important things and everything else is a sign of weakness. Tony nearly jumped twice from the top of the Rock and was both times saved by a call from a friend. His sheer determination to overcome a life in the dark pushed him to rehabilitate through physical training and to emotionally break down and rebuild himself through the Happiness Foundation. Tony now runs his own health & wellbeing project to empower and help others in similar situations.
And what about modern 21st century teenage boys, what drove Simon to jump off a nine-metre wall? Even though the effects of a broken family through divorce, dabbling in drugs and negative social influences contributed to his feeling of loneliness, Simon got to a state of pointlessness, ennui and normlessness by not feeling he belonged in the world (anomie) any more. A month shy of his 16th birthday, Simon had it clear in his mind that suicide was the best option for him; he chose to jump off a wall and luckily, a tree broke his fall. It then took him/us three years of help, support, patience, rebellion, meditation, training hard at his contemporary dance, which is his passion, to come out of the dark and into rebirth.
And how did I, his mother, cope with it all, dealing with second time round breast cancer as well? A mother who nearly loses her son, thinking of that tree constantly, not having seen the warning signs as triggers and blaming herself somehow, especially when a close family member said it had been my fault. How to deal with it, process it and at the same time support her son? How to accept I could not quick fix things, it wasn’t my fault and that mental health issues have no miracle cure other than patience and time? Having to accept that my son had to heal in his own time and space, in his own way, and accept that suicide had been a choice. This was hugely difficult for me to understand and accept, but not until I did, did things start to turn around.
Powerful, dramatic, empowering, heavy stuff – but so necessary to hear.
The help of GHA doctors and psychologists, private counsellors and close friends got us through it and often, just by being there, holding our hands, listening. This was also true for Tony. It was OK not to be OK, to have that acknowledged and it was important to speak to someone with a sympathetic ear, even if just for a rant or a cry. So let’s keep the conversation going on male suicide, let’s smash the taboo of mental health and please, don’t suffer in silence, there are plenty of charitable associations in Gibraltar that can help you and signpost you in the right direction. It’s manly to cry, to show emotions and to show vulnerabilities, that is what makes us human, sane and safe. #LetsTalkReal
If you or someone you know is suffering and need someone to speak to, book an appointment with your GP who will refer you to the right people. HELPLINES: Clubhouse Gibraltar, 200 68423. GibSams, 116123. It’s okay not to be okay.