In the wake of the untimely death of the Wales football manager Gary Speed, apparently a suicide, there has been a swathe of media all asserting how friendly and seemingly happy Speed was.
The circumstances of Speed’s death are presently unknown and, truth be told, I see no reason why that should change in the future, although the media being what it is, even in the midst of the Leveson Inquiry, details will no doubt emerge.
Because the details of Speed’s death are not known, we do not know if Speed’s death was the result of personal domestic problems, attributable to mental illness or caused by other reasons. However, we do know that suicide and depression are related to each other.
Research suggests that 90% of suicide victims had been diagnosed with or treated for a mental illness in the 12 months prior to their deaths. The implication of the press treatment of Speed’s media and social performances in recent days is that since he seemed so happy, then the assumption that this was related to depression seems all the more remarkable.
My purpose in writing this article is to highlight that such an assumption is not a valid one. I was diagnosed with depression over seven years ago and for much of that time it has consumed my life. For the majority of my friends and colleagues the news of this illness will come as something of a shock. Even if I say so myself I am a pretty funny guy, it is all too often a charade.
I have never made a suicide attempt and hope I never will. Nonetheless, I have lost count of those moments when I thought ending my life was appealing. As I have written before, on those suicidal occasions, the idea of suicide is not the end of a rational decision making process. It creeps up on you. There is not, therefore, any necessary correlation between a person ‘seeming happy, laughing and joking, etc.’ and a person being depressed, or even a person being driven to suicide.
For myself, the last 12 months have been much better than those that preceded them. The reason? I saw the warning signs in my own behaviour and felt powerless to prevent an impending (and probably imagined) catastrophe and sought medical help. Although by no means cured, medical treatment has meant that I have experienced far fewer moments of what I describe as an emotional and existential angst where suicide is an appealing course of action.
As Iain Dale’s own comment in the immediate aftermath of the news of Gary Speed’s death alludes to, depression in men is all too often swept under the carpet. It is time we grew up and acknowledged it to be an illness that can often be managed with appropriate medical intervention.