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PLEASE START TALKING

“Big boys don’t cry.” How often isn’t that heard? Especially on sports discussion panels, invariably when talking about one team beating another. But if the global pandemic and all the attendant lockdowns and enforced social isolation has highlighted one thing, it’s that humans are social by nature … and frail.

Mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters are known to be tough blighters. They can knock 10 kinds of nonsense out of each other with fists and knees, kicks, punches and throws. They’ll be bloodied and bruised in the ring but will invariably shrug it off, almost as insignificant or a minor irritation. Yet in July, one man received praise the world over for using his post-victory interview to highlight the need for men to talk about their feelings.

Tough Liverpudlian Paddy “The Baddy” Pimblett who is being likened to legend Conor McGregor, was obviously emotional when he made a plea to men to start talking. About their feelings, their fears, their financial and relationship worries, feelings of not coping with life in general.

The nuggety UFC fighter said he’d woken at 4am on the day of his latest fight at London’s O2 arena to the terrible news that one of his friends back home had taken his own life. This was just five hours before Pimblett was due to weigh in ahead of his bout.

“So Ricky lad, that’s for you,” the fighter said in the post-match interview. He went on to say: “There’s a stigma in this world that men can’t talk.

“Listen, if you’re a man and you’ve got weight on your shoulders and you think the only way you can solve it is by killing yourself, please speak to someone. Speak to anyone,” Pimblett pleaded in an emotional video which went viral, notching up millions of views within hours.

Because of the nature of social media, the responses were immediate. One man wrote: “Dude this hits me hard, I’ve been struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts and tendencies for about 30+ years and I’ve learned a lot. I’m doing way better compared to my younger self but it feels like every day is a battle. To anyone struggling, go and talk to someone about it and try to see a therapist. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help, or for a hug, or a shoulder to cry on.”The floodgates opened, with many more reporting similar sentiments. As another poster stated: “The responses here from those struggling already shows what a difference Paddy has made. He realised very fast the platform he has, and my God is he using it. Extremely proud to be a scouser with people like this on the forefront. Legend.”
The Yorkshire Evening Post reported that two local men’s mental health groups showed a notable spike in attendance in the days following Pimblett’s comments. Numbers of attendees were up from 20 to 30, an immediate 50% increase.A mental health consultant, Pete White, said Pimblett’s post-fight interview had been a brilliant example of a pattern interrupt.“People were expecting Paddy to give the usual post-fight victory speech, but he delivered an incredibly powerful and vulnerable message about mental health,” White said. “It made people sit up and listen. We need more people doing this from all parts of society – vulnerability empowers.”

It might sound trite and hackneyed, but it really is OK to not be OK. Open up and let someone – a friend, lover, family member, work colleague or an uninvolved third party like a therapist or counsellor know what you are dealing with and how you feel.

Organisations like the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (www.sadag.orghave a 24 hour helpline available – 0800 456 789. They are there to assist without judgement. Call them.

Useful numbers:
Sadag 24 hour suicide crisis line: 0800 567567Lifeline: 0861 322322 or WhatsApp: 065 989 9238Department of Social Development substance abuse helpline: 0800 12 13 14 or SMS 32312