Radio

Why Mental Health Has Become Important To Me

13 Sep 2012 at 16:38

Mental health remains a subject most people find difficult to talk about. Unless they are affected by it, it’s not something talked about in polite society. Or they are bored by it. I’ve never suffered from depression, or any other form of mental condition, so I have slightly surprised myself at how interested in the subject I have become. My interest was sparked when I was a political candidate in North Norfolk, where I led a campaign to save a dementia care unit in North Walsham. The people I met made me realise how mental health really was, and still is, the cinderella service. Think about it, we care for our physical health, but we regard mental health as of secondary importance. But to those with mental health problems, it’s far from that. It dominates more or less every waking moment of their lives. People who are outwardly extrovert and have very successful careers and happy home lives can often by prime examples of people with chronic depression. The most common response is to tell them to ‘snap out of it’. It’s the worst possible thing you can say. Because it’s impossible to do. If you could, you would.

But mental health is far from being all about depression. Mental health issues come in all shapes and sizes, as I have discovered over the last two years of presenting my LBC radio show. When I started at LBC I never for a moment imagined I would host phone ins on depression, dementia, bereavement, coping with trauma, the psychological effects of child abuse. Who on earth, I thought, would phone in to a radio station and talk about such personal matters. Well, I soon found out that many people do, and regard it as a huge release to be able to talk about things in such a forum. My boss at LBC at the time said that I would always get a good reaction on these subjects because I am a good listener and don’t interrupt all the time. “You’ve got a comforting, non threatening voice,” he said. “People will open up to you in a way they might not to others.” And so it has happened. Some of my best programmes have involved talking about mental health. We’ve had some tears, we have had a lot of emotion, but above all, people feel they are helping others by demonstrating that other listeners are not suffering alone.

On Tuesday I got an email from the mental health charity, MIND, informing me that my show has been shortlisted for the 2012 MIND Media Awards. I’m up for Speech Radio Show of the Year and the News & Current Affairs Show of the Year. The MIND awards are a big thing and take place each November. This year the evening will be hosted by Stephen Fry.

All broadcasters covet award nominations, and I am not different. I’m a comparative newbie at this, but to be nominated for not just one but two awards means a huge amount to me. My sister tweeted me last night to say “Mum would be proud of you.” Cue instant tears. But she would. She listened every night and could never quite comprehend how I could move from discussing Ed Miliband’s leadership to talk about coping with dementia, “just like that”. “How do you know about all these things?” she used to ask? “I don’t,” I replied. “But my listeners do, and I just let them tell their stories.” And in a way, that’s the secret of talk radio. Let the listeners to the talking and only intervene if they start breaking down or need a bit of guidance.

You can read more about the MIND awards HERE.

Here are the two shortlists, I am on…

News and Current Affairs – sponsored by Samaritans

• Combat Stress: BBC Look East / BBC One • Antipsychotic Drugs for Kids: Channel 4 News • Iain Dale: Mental Health & The Work Capability Assessment: LBC • Newsbeat: Male Anorexia: BBC Radio 1 • The Forgotten Fallen: ITV News

Speech Radio

• Henry’s Demons: BBC Radio 4 • Iain Dale: Mental Health Special Programmes: LBC • Mental Health in Prison: Radio Wanno • Poetry and PTSD: BBC Radio 5 Live • Ramblings / Walking around England: BBC Radio 4

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