It is hard to believe it is a year since TV presenter, Caroline Flack’s tragic death shocked the world. Like many people, I vividly remember hearing the news. It was an utter travesty that someone that appeared so vivacious and successful could get to the point where she felt there was no way out. It was only a few months since I had lost my own brother to drug addiction and my thoughts immediately went to her family as I knew the gut-wrenching pain they would now be feeling.
But what followed the news of her death, unsettled me even more. Because the #bekind movement really took off. Wherever you looked people were reminding people to #bekind as if the problem existed because of everyone else rather than themselves. And I found it deeply frustrating.
Don’t get me wrong, of course I want people to be kind to each other but if we’re really serious about creating a world where people feel better supported and able to speak out we need to do a lot more than reminding other people to be a bit nicer. We need to call out trolling in all its forms, we need to stand up to bad behaviour–even when it’s so subtle you barely notice it–but more than anything we need to have a bit more honesty about our own mental health.
Show me a flawless human and I’ll show you a liar.
So here’s what I wrote about the loss of Caroline a year ago, taken from my book, The Counsellor…
Caroline Flack died over the weekend and I am channelling my anger into thinking about it. I’m not angry with her—on the contrary, I’m terribly sad—but I feel angry with the world.
She was a TV presenter, beautiful and vivacious, but, if you believe what you read, had clearly struggled with her mental health. She was hounded by the media and tormented by vicious online trolls. In the end, she ended her life and, perhaps without knowing or realising it, completely changed the lives of her loved ones. I can’t stop thinking about her family and friends, and the journey they’re now on. The regret, the guilt, and the unbearable pain. Danny didn’t take his own life, not in the same way, but he did self-destruct. We couldn’t love him back from the brink and that is an incredibly hard truth to bear.
I’m thinking about her on my journey into work, reflecting on how it seems the entire world is now behind a campaign to call everyone else out—to blame the media, the trolls, the people who read and share gossip. And I don’t disagree; we’re all culpable, after all. We all play our part.
But I feel angry because the one thing people aren’t saying is the one thing that needs to be said. Maybe every single one of us suffering in silence has a hand in her downfall too? The one thing I know about mental health struggles is that looking out at everyone else’s seemingly perfect lives makes it all even harder.
So many people, or their loved ones, suffer in some way at least some of the time. I don’t care who they are or what they do. How many people can honestly say have not been impacted by mental ill health? I can feel the anger burning up inside me, so I take out my phone and write a post on Facebook:
Our mental health is a part of our overall health. While the majority of the world stays silent or, worse, puts up a front, the people who have fallen into the deepest, darkest places will continue to feel alone.
We shouldn’t just be telling others to talk and posting platitudes. We should be shouting our own stories from the rooftops. We should be telling them, ‘Me too!’ We should be open about our coping mechanisms and find new ones together.
My brother died in November. Since then I cry almost every day. My family has been ripped apart. We’ll never be the same again. I feel lost.
I miss him. I am sad for him. I am sad that he was so unwell, and sad that he battled with depression and drug addiction for so much of his adult life. I’m sad that he thought his struggles were different, worse somehow. I am sad because they weren’t. He was an ordinary guy. Like Caroline, he just didn’t see that. He thought he was alone.
It’s not their mental health problems. It’s ours.
We need to stop hiding and start sharing.
I put the phone back into my bag. I can’t post it today; people will think I’m mad. Yes, I sigh, I’m a part of the problem.
Learn more about Alison Kerwin’s book The Counsellor: A powerful true story about addiction, grief and love.