In Conversation with Mike Snelle from The Connor Brothers for Mental Health Awareness Week
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In Conversation with Mike Snelle from The Connor Brothers for Mental Health Awareness Week

May 14, 2019

In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week, we share The Connor Brothers' Mike Snelle's story on the topic, and it's personal significance to him and The Connor Brothers.

As official ambassadors for the mental health charity CALM, The Connor Brothers have raised thousands by taking part in various talks, events and fundraisers throughout the country to continue the important discussion around mental health, male suicide, masculinity, and art as therapy.

The Connor Brothers in their studio

In Conversation with Mike Snelle...

Three months ago my brother hanged himself by a dog lead in the annex of my Mum’s house. He was in a coma for five days. When he came around he’d lost four years of memories, and couldn’t make new ones at all. This wasn’t my first encounter with suicide. It wasn’t even my first encounter in the past couple of years. Eighteen months earlier a different sibling attempted to gas himself in the car. We sectioned him and he spent six weeks in a chronically underfunded mental hospital in rural South Wales, allowed out only for my Dad’s funeral.

Perhaps it’s stating the obvious to say I’m from a family with mental health issues. I’ve got them myself. In 2012, not for the first time, I experienced a suicidal depression and ended up being given an emergency referral to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me as bipolar and prescribed me a mixture of anti-psychotics and mood stabilisers which I continue to take to this day. It was during that time I ended up living with James and that’s when The Connor Brothers was born. Born, in fact, out of a conversation about addiction and mental health. When I first met him James was three years in to a serious heroin addiction which almost killed him, and his addicted behaviour continued to cause chaos, damaging both himself and people around him, for years after the surgical implant that which stopped him taking heroin. It’s only recently that he’s come to acknowledge that addiction too is a mental health issue.

In some way or other, mental health issues, either our own or those of people close to us, affect almost everyone, but we don’t talk about it. Not really. Not like we need to. Like many others, I know first hand how damaging suicide can be. It’s a bigger problem than any of us like to acknowledge. Particularly amongst men. Twelve men, all of them someone’s child, father, brother, colleague or friend, kill themselves in the UK every day. That’s eighty four men each week. More men under 45 die by suicide than any other cause. It’s not cancer, or road accidents, or violent deaths that’s the biggest killer of men. It’s depression. But even this is a distortion of the true situation. Twelve men successfully take their own lives every day. There are no statistics for attempted suicides but the number must be countless times higher. There is an unspoken crisis going on. An epidemic of mental illness.

Recently we’ve teamed up with the charity CALM - The Campaign Against Living Miserably - who’s aim is reduce the number of deaths in the UK caused by suicide. They run a help line for those in crisis. They also work tirelessly to reduce the stigma around mental health issues, and to normalise the conversation around them. Because it is normal to struggle sometimes and it’s OK to admit it. Strength and vulnerability, contrary to what society might project, are not mutually exclusive qualities. Part of normalising the conversation is admitting our own mental health issues. It’s not a fun experience but it might be the only way for us as a society to get over the shame that prevents us seeking help. Acknowledging our own struggles might encourage others to admit theirs, and to break the silence that all too often can prove deadly.

CALM recently did a project with Mark Jenkins - an artist both James and I admire. He produced 84 sculptures, each based on actual men who’d taken their own lives, and exhibited them on the top of the ITV Tower. It was a powerful project and turned the numbers, which can feel abstract, into something real. It was an example of what art, at is best, can do.

Project 84 by Mark Jenkins.

A massive thank you to Mike Snelle for his piece and The Connor Brothers for introducing us to CALM. To learn more about CALM and the amazing work they do for this vital cause, click here.

Much love from Hang-Up x

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