August 17, 2018
by Tina Arnoldi
A suicide loss is unbearable. Friends and families who lose a loved one to suicide are left wondering why. Losing two family members to suicide is difficult to even imagine, but is something Dennis Gillan, a mental health advocate experienced.
Dennis seeks to raise awareness by speaking about the loss of his brothers, Mark and Matthew, to suicide. I asked Dennis for his thoughts on high profile suicides, such as Anthony Bourdain, and whether our culture has gotten better or worse when addressing mental illness in males. Below are his thoughts on this topic.
“One suicide is too many no matter what the sex of the departed. We in the suicide prevention department are trying to stem all premature departures due to suicide, but if we are going to move the needle on [suicide] completions, we must get the men involved.
But getting men involved in anything mental health related has proven to be a tall order. I speak on the subject and when I take my show on the road, 78% of the audience are women. It is not uncommon to learn they are there because they lost, or are worried about, men in their lives. Women are awesome because they care about this stuff and guys are well…. idiots. Well meaning idiots, but idiots much the same. I am a guy, and this is a self-indictment, but when it comes to mental health, we must do better.
So, the million-dollar question, how do we get guys involved in the cause? Some recent athletes have helped. Brian Dawkins of the Philadelphia Eagles addressed the issue when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Football. The NBA this year had a couple guys talk about mental health.
I thought we were doing well and then in the same week we lost Kate Spade, we lost the 'guys guy' - Anthony Bourdain. A man with the absolute dream job. It’s tough to watch his show now. Real tough. As good a storyteller as he was, why didn’t he tell anyone he was hurting? Because he’s a guy, and guys don’t talk about this stuff. Or did he?
In researching the death of Bourdain, I ran across work by John E. Richters, PhD. He notes that Bourdain talked about suicide throughout his career. 'A cursory review of his public statements over the years reveals 19 separate occasions— in writing, during interviews, and on camera— on which he refers to suicide by hanging.'
Although guys don’t ask for help, they will often drop clues. For the rest of us, it is imperative that we learn what those clues are and try to get them to open up before it is too late. It is just as important as physical health. I heard one guy refer to the whole condition as mental fitness and guys can relate to that. We all know about physical fitness and it’s time we educated ourselves about mental fitness as well.
With all this said, I am hopeful about the future because the younger generations get it. They are more willing to talk about mental health than previous generations. I recently spoke to over 800 fraternity men at a leadership conference. They were interested in the subject and that gave me a dose of optimism for the future state of mental health in America. Men have to learn that it is okay to not be okay and the men around them have to learn how to rally around their mate. There’s an old Kenyan saying that goes like this: A stick alone can be broken by a child, but a stick in a bundle cannot be broken. Guys we need to bundle up and find our tribe. Men need men and 78% of all completed suicides are men. We change our attitude about mental health and that number goes down. Who’s with me? “
Dennis Gillan is a mental health advocate who talks about how he dealt with the loss of his brothers, Mark and Matthew, to suicide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and his website is www.dennisgillan.com