Stepping up for mental health

By Alan Titchall, Editorial Manager, Contrafed.
As a guest at the inaugural Hirepool Clash for Construction charity boxing event held in Auckland (to raise funds for Mates in Construction), I sat next to a lovely woman called Rebecca Millar.

Rebecca lost her son Eric to suicide few years ago, and he was a very good mate of CCNZ regional manager, Calum Twist. Eric was the inspiration for this event, featured on page 26.

Rebecca and I sat through the 19 boxing bouts as novices to the sport – wide-eyed to the both the intense organisation behind the event, the pluck of the contestants, the style of the boxing (which varied between well-trained jabbing and foot-skipping and slugging matches with wildly swung haymakers), and the hysterical, at times, support of the crowd.

The last round was called the Eric Millar Memorial Bout and Rebecca presented the medal to the winner – Russell Green, the owner of Civil and Landfill Construction, who was also the sponsor of the one of the two competing teams.

I have only lost one mate to suicide. It was when I was at university and his name was Conrad. I have spent a lifetime thinking his tragedy over, wondering if I could have done more to stop his self-harm. Conrad was very eccentric but then, so were most university students his  age, freshly escaped the disciplines of home life. When his parents arrived down south for his funeral, I was  surprised how comparatively conversative they were, and at their stunned silence as they mourned for the son they thought they knew.

Yes, when I thought back on it, Conrad sent a through a few red flags as to his mental health, but not enough to be alarmed in a typical campus social scene of ‘self-expression’ and recreational drug taking. You only think about these signs later when discussing them among mutual friends, and realising that he shared his anxiety amongst us in small parts. Not one of us got the ‘full picture’ as to his mental health.

I learnt recently, through my own situation, that reaching out for help is easier said than done.

Last year, I went through a ‘cancer’ crisis to remove a large tumour found, quite by accident, inside a vital organ. I had no symptoms at all, and still don’t, but the radical treatment I needed affected my family and work colleagues.

Yeah, I was worried. Bloody worried. But, I felt obliged to keep up a positive attitude, not just for my own morale, but for my family and work colleagues who appeared more concerned than I was.

I think we all have an animal survival instinct to disguise pain and avoid displaying negative messages of weakness and vulnerability.

I also think that we are ill-equipped to accept the ailments and afflictions of others, whether physical or mental, which we receive with a certain amount of stigma, regardless of how many ‘kindness’ campaigns are trumpeted out there.

I know I kept up a false brave face so I didn’t ‘scare’ folks who I was depending on for support. And, this is probably why victims are often more stoic and comfortable than their caretakers. But, in the end – pending death is a solo flight.

What I am saying is – we don’t readily share our pains, particularly mental, and even disguise them, making it very hard to detect on the outside.

This is why the likes of Mates in Construction and Heavy Hitters (the charity organisers) should get all the support and encouragement this industry can muster, and keep this ‘discussion’ over mental welfare and suicide open and accessible.

On a final note, I have learnt through a study of mathematical probabilities that life is a very precious and a ‘chance’ thing. The odds of each of us even being here in the universe at this time as humans, and conscious of being here, involve statistics that are almost incomprehensible.

And you are here – don’t waste it.

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