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Opinion

Paul McNamee: Don’t suffer in silence when it comes to mental health

We must listen. We must speak. We must be there

Last week Scottish musician Scott Hutchison died. He was 36. He had gone missing in the early hours of Wednesday from a hotel outside Edinburgh. His body was found on Thursday. Scott had left several concerning tweets on Tuesday, his final one saying simply “I’m away now. Thanks.”

Scott suffered mental health problems in the past but this disappearance was so worrying that his family made increasingly desperate pleas to him to return. Devastatingly for them, it was too late.

Some of the songs Scott wrote for his band Frightened Rabbit dealt with isolation, fear and depression. His fans are clear how the music had helped them.

The news of his death hit a lot of people hard. I didn’t know Scott, but I know a number of people who did. They speak of a good man, a good friend. Their grief is tangible. It is a desperately sad situation.

This came in the same week as a character called Aidan Connor took his own life in Coronation Street. It was a storyline, featuring Shayne Ward, that received plaudits for its handling of a situation that is a national crisis.

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Young men are taking their own lives in staggering numbers.

This is not breaking news. Suicide remains a bigger killer than heart disease, cancer and road accidents for men aged between 20 and 49 in Britain.

I don’t know why that is. In fact, nobody really knows. Various reasons have been put forward: a rise in a certain modern toxic masculinity where corrupted ideas of an alpha male perpetuate an unattainable myth; social media growth that has led to increased isolation and a lack of human interaction; dramatic cuts in mental healthcare provision, withdrawing access to essential help for those who need it most; hopelessness due to rising levels of poverty.

I have a son who is just 11. He is a happy boy and he is really good fun to hang out with. I’m lucky he’s still happy to chat, a lot, to his dad. I know the hard knock of puberty is not too far away. And it’s uncertain where it’ll carry him across those adolescent years and beyond.

But I know that I will make it clear I will be there, come what may. That if darkness or confusion or anger grips, I will be within reach. The same goes for friends and anybody close who needs that at the darkest hour.

That’s not to say that those who see no other way out didn’t have support networks around. Frequently families are doing everything they can. It’s crucial that more properly funded research and support is put into this devastating scourge of society. And that mental health funding in the NHS is lifted to the levels needed.

For now, there is this from Lorna Fraser, an advisor from The Samaritans who worked on the Coronation Street story: “One of the most important things that this storyline covers is the importance of talking if you are struggling to cope – talk to somebody, don’t suffer in silence, there’s always help out there.”

She added that the opposite was also true. “If there’s somebody that you’re worried about – if somebody doesn’t really seem themselves, talk to them about it. Ask them if they’re OK.”

We must listen. We must speak. We must be there.

The Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123

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