The Christmas Box

Posted on December 3, 2011


Advent. The coming of light. Early December days herald the start of the festive season. The bringing down of the Christmas box.  Within this old and torn cardboard relic lies Christmas itself. Neatly packed away each year its inhabitants wait to break free in a disco of tinsel and baubles and memories.

There has always been a Christmas box. It lives in the loft, or under the stairs. Waiting to be called down to our world at Christmas time. Preserved from childhood into the present it is a familiar nearly as wonderful as Christmas itself. This is the first act. Soon others will follow. A Christmas tree; the company of family and friends; gifts; food; fun.

Opening the box you discover treasures. Greet them as returning heroes from some far flung land. The strange faced Father Christmas with his musical ‘ ho’ ‘ho’ ‘ho.’ The two fairies, whom in a beauty pageant you must decide which shall grace the tree top this year. It is all there. Baubles; fairy lights, one of which will refuse to work; The Christmas records; The mistletoe. Pillowcases to await this years bounty.

It is all wonderful and exciting. Yet this year the Christmas Carol pop out book troubles me. Charles Dickens tale of Christmas redemption does not usually grab me so hard. On the first Sunday of Advent, November 27, Gary Speed, a high profile English football manager and player died. He was 42 years old. He left behind a wife, two children, and many grieving family and friends. His death also left many questions. If anything epitomized a Dickensian message of wasted life, then this was it.

The questions barrel in, one after another. My first thought was how close in age we were. This stops you and makes you think. Listening to all the unanswerable questions, the shock, the disbelieving confusion in friends words,

‘ He had a beautiful wife and children’,

‘ He appeared so happy’, I was drawn slowly back to my own past in mental health.

So I move aside the Christmas box a moment and reflect. Men’s mental health is more important than ever. Lets be clear about one point. This is not a football question, or a sporting one. It is about men. We are the common denominator here. We are dying out around the world as a result of our mental health.

Did you know that seventy-five percent of all deaths from suicide are male? Three quarters of a million men die around the world each year from taking their own lives. One man every 40 seconds. Right here and now. When you think on that it is scary and it is wrong. To give the figures perspective, seven thousand people, men and women, die each year as a result of land mines. In the UK more young men die as a result of suicide than in road traffic accidents.

Maybe it would surprise you to know, that in the UK there is no National men’s mental health strategy? We do not even know what the problem is, let alone have a plan to try to address it.  This is not though a man problem and we should not forget that. We are all somebody’s father, son, brother, husband, colleague, friend, partner. What affects our lives also changes that of those around us. Tragically so, if there is a suicide. We all need to look again at how we can better support men’s mental health.

This is not easy and there are no simple answers. Rivers of tears, no matter how many we cry, do not brink back departed love ones. Words, no matter how many we say, will not always work to prevent someone taking their life. But we can try. Try to hold on to ourselves and to each other. The brutal fact of course is that you never know.You never know the pain, the hardship, that another person is experiencing. Life is a journey we sail alone. Only ourselves know how we live, how it feels, when it is good and when it is bad.

What we can do is help each journey on its way. We can become the wind and the sails. We can position lighthouses on the more rocky coasts of life. We can do this by taking responsibility. It is not somebody else’s problem. It is all of ours. Only by thinking about the causes, the pressures of modern life, and looking at how we can change them, will we make a start. And talking. Mental health, mens and women’s, is a great taboo and we need to talk about it. Now. Not tomorrow or next week.

I do not want to lose one more friend this way. I do not want to bring down the Christmas box next year and reflect on someone else’s passing. Those experiencing mental health problems are not cowards. They are so brave.  Men and women who struggle every day with their mental health are among the bravest people I have known.

It is easy to face each day when you are happy. You breeze through life. To rise every day in pain, to rise and still carry on, to try to reach a better place. That person is someone who is a true hero. Sometimes the battle becomes uneven and we lose. It does not mean that we should stop fighting, holding on. These are exceptional people and we need them here, with us.

The Christmas box remains open, its just other things are on my mind and there is no bad thing. After all, perhaps the greatest Christmas film of all is ‘ It’s a Wonderful life. Like a Christmas Carol it shows how much we mean, all of us, to the world. Maybe we all need to remember this, to show those that we love just how wonderful it is. That they are not alone. The best gift this Christmas for someone you love is to hold them. Talk to them and tell them that you love them. Advent. The coming of the light. Be that bridge over troubled waters.