Opinion

Paul McNamee: With space to talk it can be all right

"As a nation we’re learning how complex mental illness can be, and those suffering need the best that we can give"

Last week I sat up to tune into a radio show. It was a live broadcast, on BBC 6 Music, at midnight last Thursday. The one-hour special, hosted by the great Mary Anne Hobbs, played the new Nick Cave album in its entirety.

It was a hard listen. The record, called Skeleton Tree, deals with grief. Last year, Nick Cave’s young son died in a tragic accident. This was Cave’s way of trying to navigate out of the pit.

Raw, elemental, hymnal in places, it’s a work that requires a steadiness to face. I Need You is particularly tough.

Something happened during the broadcast. Maybe it was the hour, maybe it was the fact that as listeners we were in the moment, and unquestionably it had something to do with Cave’s incredible honesty and skill, but the communal nature of the listening experience became more than the sum of its parts. People started to send in messages not just about this record, but their own experiences. A listener talked about his own grief at losing a child and where the record was taking him.

On levels that are impossible to properly measure, this broadcast helped. It helped those facing their own issues and allowed people to see they were not alone.

A different kid every 30 minutes was having suicidal thoughts

Radio can do this. It has a wonderful intimacy. And great music can cut through in ways no other art form can.

Last week, Childline revealed that calls to their service had doubled in the last five years. A different kid every 30 minutes was having suicidal thoughts and with nowhere else to turn was going to Childline.

Cuts to mental health provision, particularly for the young, are having a critical effect. Thank goodness Childline is here at all. However it’s simply not good enough that children feeling lost believe they have nowhere else to turn.

There is a recognition that mental health provision in Britain HAS to get better. It’s inarguable. No if or but or weaselly excuse stands up.

And as a nation we’re learning how complex mental illness can be, how it can strike mercilessly, lying latent for a time or raging all the time. It can also be precipitated by any number of things – grief and loss can spiral into depression. Those suffering need the best that we can give. And different sorts of treatments that promote a different kind of well-being – whether through music or gardening – should be promoted.

Above all, we need to provide space for those who need to talk, even when they don’t realise they need to talk.

Nick Cave’s album closes with the title track and the recurring line “and it’s all right now”.

Even at the darkest moment, there is a chance of light.

If you have any comments please email me at paul.mcnamee@bigissue.com, tweet @pauldmcnamee, or send a letter to The Big Issue, 43 Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 1HW

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