Seven years ago when Steph Slack’s uncle ended his own life, she wasn’t quite sure how to react. Despite the fact suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, it’s something that still comes with a high level of taboo.
“I was at university,” she tells me. “I sort of didn’t think I had any authority to talk about it or credibility. Seven years ago, when it happened, suicide was a massive taboo and mental health wasn’t on the agenda. People really didn’t know how to react when you told them, so I never really explored it other than doing some fundraising.”
However, after returning from a year abroad in Australia and working in corporate responsibility she found herself questioning what she really wanted to do with her life. “I had an increasing desire to do something in the mental health space, particularly around suicide prevention and awareness, and this sort of led me to this concept that maybe I could create spaces for people to talk about what’s important to them.”
Now the 27-year-old is working on a variety of projects, all designed to tackle problems surrounding mental health in the UK. As well as working with a national charity on a project to support men between 18-65, she also runs various workshops, talks and events surrounding men’s mental health.
Bringing Human Rights and Mental Health Together
Image Credit: Steph Slack
Our mental health is very much a human rights issue, with human rights providing safeguards against discrimination and protections for people who need mental health treatment in hospital. However, for Steph, we need to go further than address the problems in front of us.
“A lot of the projects I’m working on are all about tackling inequality, so obviously there’s a correlation between mental health and inequality,” she explains. “It’s just about better education, which I think needs to go parallel with how we’re dealing with the current situation, as opposed to what we’re doing now, which is just looking at the current situation.
We need to take a step back. This stuff is going to take years to shift.
“We’re going if we fix some stuff over here, it will all be okay, but we actually need to take a step back and do both. This is going to take years to shift, but if don’t start on the early year and intervention side, we’re still going to have the same problem rolling over and over.”
A Shift in the National Conversation
Image Credit: Jem Collins
The statistics surrounding suicide in men are shocking – 75 percent of people who end their lives are men. It’s part of the reason behind national campaigns such as International Men’s Day and The Campaign Against Living Miserably. However, Steph does believe we’ve made some progress.
“I’m aware that I’m immersed in a mental health bubble,” she concedes, “but I think there’s a distinct shift in mental health, even between when I left London in 2015 and now. Even in two years, partly due to the royals getting involved in a topic that was so taboo and, well, if they’re talking about it it’s OK.”
However, there’s still much to do, and Steph doesn’t think the shift has yet translated into workplaces or to more “spikey” areas of mental health. “I think there are certain topics people are now comfortable talking about – anxiety and depression for example. So you hear a lot about them. They are the most common mental health condition, but I still think there are things we aren’t talking about, like schizophrenia, body dysmorphia in men or suicide. I think it is about ‘doing’ more.”
For support if you’re struggling with mental health you can contact the Samaritans on 116 123 or email email@example.com. You can see more about Steph’s work on her website.