"It’s going to feel difficult, but it is a lot easier than you may think"
The rising neo-soul star has become renowned for his frank and honest approach to mental health in his lyrics. He’s now an advocate for the charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). With 75% of suicides in the UK a result of men taking their own lives, Suleiman spoke to NME as part of International Men’s Day to call for people to be more understanding, open, compassionate, and above all, brave.
So how did you become involved with CALM and what they do?
Ady: “I’ve always been an advocate for mental health and a lot of my songs kind of touch on the subject, whether it be anxiety, depression, bipolar or whatever. I’ve always wanted to work with a charity and I heard about CALM through Professor Green. He used to do a lot of documentaries on BBC3. We started to do a couple of things together. We did the Touch Song campaign and played a five-a-side football tournament with them. That’s how it all started really.
How would you say we’re progressing in terms of breaking a stigma for people actually wanting to discuss mental health?
“I think it’s definitely improving, but I still think there is a long way to go. To me it feels like we’re starting a conversation. We’re getting more people in the public eye talking about mental health. The conversation is just the starting point and for any kind of progress, I think it will take quite a while. There is definitely a stigma around it mainly because people don’t really understand it. I don’t think there’s enough education around mental health. The main place to start is to educate people on what anxiety is and how things are caused, what bipolar, schizophrenia and depression are – because I don’t think people know. As soon as you say mental health, people just think about what they’ve seen in films, or having experienced straitjackets and that kind of thing and it’s not really the case.”
Speaking out is one thing, but what would you like to say to people to have them be more open-minded and prepared to listen when these things come up?
“I would definitely say ‘stay open-minded’. Being open-minded is the main thing and again just having the willingness to learn. It’s about understanding each other and other people. Mental health is something you can’t see on the outside. You’ll never fully understand what other people are going through. Some people who can be depressed are people who are always putting on a smile. I’d just say try and be aware of it and be open to it.”
The male suicide rate is staggeringly high. What do you think needs to be done to address men discussing mental health?
“I just think men find it harder to open up about their insecurities because of the stereotype and society’s perception on men. I can’t imagine a lot of teenage boys talking about their stresses and anxieties and depression. I don’t really know who they would talk to. I mean, obviously some people are going to talk to their friends about it but I just imagine it to be a lot harder for men to open up because of the stereotype. It’s almost as if it’s something you shouldn’t do. You just feel like you have to ‘man up’ because men aren’t really allowed to show their vulnerabilities. I think that’s definitely one of the reasons. You don’t really know how to deal with it. It will take a long time to change that perception fully. It’s easy for people to say ‘I’m there for you’; to talk about it. but there’s always that thing where people are still quite quick to judge. It takes a long time for people to change their mentality. “
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“It is really difficult because people don’t think that men have a great deal of issues and I think that’s part of the problem. You almost don’t want to say that men have issues because it can make them feel a bit weird about talking about it. Women have gone through so much and with women’s rights being such a thing, you kind of feel a little bit awkward mentioning it. But the statistics are there with male suicides and homelessness. “
So what advice would you give to any men thinking these things, who might be concerned about people judging them?
“You’ve got to talk to somebody. Places like CALM are a great place to start, if you don’t have anyone in your social group like a friend or someone you could talk to. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, whatever you’re going through. People go through the same problems. The sooner you speak about it, the person who you’re speaking to might think ‘you know what, I’ve gone through a similar thing not that long ago’. To just be brave. It’s a brave thing to talk about how you really feel and what you’re going through. It’s going to feel difficult, but it is a lot easier than you may think.”
What would you say to anyone out there who might have concerns for a friend?
“You have to be there as a friend. Don’t be quick to judge. I would also look into getting some professional help and go and see someone. Whether it is a GP or just someone you could feel at ease with and for them to know, it’s not that deep having to talk to a therapist. If you had a scratch on your knee, you’d have no problem telling someone to go to a doctor. You’d just sort it out and put a plaster on it or whatever. It’s the same for your mental health.”
FOR HELP AND ADVICE ON MENTAL HEALTH:
- YOUNG MINDS – The voice for young people’s health and wellbeing
- CALM – The Campaign Against Living Miserably for young men
- Time To Change – Let’s end mental health discrimination
- The Samaritans – Confidential support 24 hours a day
Meanwhile, Ady Suleiman’s debut album ‘Memories’ will be released on March 9.
Ady Suleiman on tour
His upcoming tour dates are below. Tickets are available here.
Tuesday 27 March – Gorilla, Manchester
Wednesday 28 March – Koko, London
Thursday 29 March – O2 Institute 2, Birmingham