On World Mental Health Day, people are coming together in Bexley to prevent suicide

09 Oct 2023
mental health

The Bexley Suicide Prevention Partnership was set up in 2022 by Bexley Public Health team to look at a joint approach to working towards a Zero Suicide Strategy which involves health and local authority, voluntary sector partners as well as residents who have been affected by suicide. Read the story of Gurjit, one of those residents, below.  

The first project commissioned by Bexley Suicide Partnership is focussing on providing outlets for men to talk about their mental health. ONS data shows that men are almost three times to take their own lives than women, and men between 50-54 are the most at-risk group. Men are statistically more likely to discuss mental health issues with their barber than with their GP. This places barbers in a unique position to be able to help men battle anxiety and depression. The project will train barbers to become Mind in Bexley Ambassadors and identify signs of depression, be non-judgemental listeners and effective at signposting.

The team from Mind in Bexley are currently recruiting barbers to take part in the ambassador training, so if you would like to be involved please contact andrewburke@mindinbexley.org.uk.

Click to find out more about the project

Gurjit’s story

Gurjit Shokar, mental health campaigner
Gurjit Shokar, mental health campaigner

In October 2021 I lost my brother Tony to suicide – he’d been suffering for a very long time but you wouldn’t notice it from the outside. We knew, we could hear him, but I don’t think any of us were really listening. We were so close to it that we couldn’t see the illness. We normalised his behaviour – He was the life and soul of the party, he’d go out of his way to help anyone, but that was all part of the mask he wore to cover up the pain. I knew this deep down.

He was everything to me – I worshipped him. He was my hero but I never told him that. That’s the unspoken man code though, part of the problem – we don’t say how we feel. He didn’t talk to me either – he helped everyone and never asked for help himself.

We’ve created a society where we don’t talk about our feelings, we don’t share when we’re in pain. Two words keep coming up when I talk about suicide with people – stigma and taboo. These are clever words to justify why as a society we’re burying our head in the sand. There shouldn’t be a stigma from admitting we’re struggling and we need help, and why should it be a taboo talking about our mental health and the bad thoughts we’re having? It’s just easier not to talk about uncomfortable subjects for us. That doesn’t work though – the problem gets worse when we create taboos.

The solution lies before the problem. It has to start at home. The environment needs to change – the whole family needs to understand the problem and address it – but families aren’t talking to one another.

When my brother’s problems got worse, he was under the care of a crisis team – just the word crisis rings alarm bells. We need to do everything at home to address this before we reach crisis.

Your loved ones are personal to you, but once you go to a mental health team, a crisis team, as much as they can help, they’re helping a case number, not a loved one.

Tony was a builder. There’s a real problem with mental health in the profession, as it’s a tough job with long hours, there’s a lot of uncertainty around employment and to top it all there’s this macho culture around it – you’ve got to be tough, a ‘real man’. So they suffer in silence.

So I’ve started to talk to people, any groups who’ll have me, to encourage conversations. I’ve spoken at temples, community centres, meetings, even some building firms have asked me to talk (you can view one here) to get things out in the open, address the issue head on.

One time I gave a talk and one of the men called out, ‘You’ve gotta be strong mate.’ But that’s part of the problem. What he really meant by that was he wanted me to be strong by being silent. I asked him, ‘define strength then.’ I explained to him everything we’d gone through, and so I said, ‘after that I’m standing up here talking to you about it – is that not strong?’ We’re always told not talking is strong, we’ve just gotta get on with it, bottle it up. Feeling low is seen as a weakness. And I used to be like that too. I’ve been that person, saying ‘man up’. That’s such a damaging phrase. Society has bred the problem into us. Society is stopping people like me from talking.

I’m making a fuss, trying to change things, but this isn’t just about me, and my brother. It’s about all the millions that came before who went through this, and it’s about all the people we still have a chance to save. How are we going to stop this? What can we do? We need to get people talking at home, we need to have conversations in schools, universities, sports clubs, workplaces. Teachers, professionals, people in places where they have influence should get a mental health first aid course. Religious leaders need to be aware. You can’t pray poor mental health away. People need to understand their own mental health so they can help others and recognise when somebody might need help. If a person suffering understands they’re not alone then it might make a difference.

I need to make some sense of all this, I don’t want this to just be one man’s tragic story. Suicide isn’t something you move on from, and it’s hard to imagine anything good coming from it. It’s difficult for anyone to understand unless they’ve been through it – but I definitely don’t want you to experience what we’ve been through, and it’s the one thing that drives me. We need to build a society together where suicide is never seen as a solution.

So what can you do?


Often we don’t talk about these uncomfortable subjects, but it’s really important to show to those in your life you’re willing to discuss it. If you’re worried about a loved one, let them know.

Listen without judgement

Whatever they’re going through is valid. When someone says they feel suicidal, it’s because they’re in pain, and they want the pain to end. It’s not selfish, and we need to get away from saying that. Often people who are depressed feel a burden and when they think about suicide, they feel they will be releasing their loved ones from that burden.  Suicide isn’t a solution to ease anyone’s pain though. Pain is temporary, suicide is permanent.

Understand you don’t have to have all the answers

Listening is a skill. Most people listen to reply, to have an answer, so they can fix you. All of us, and especially men, have been bred by society that we have to have the answers, to be able to fix things. But sometimes just being there to listen is the most important thing, to say, “hey, I hate that you’re feeling this way,” and nothing more. It’s OK not to have all the answers.

Forget the rules of society

Whatever you think people might think of you and your family, it’s not as important as the mental health and safety of you and your loved ones. Everyone has their own problems.

Learn mental health first aid

Learning about our own mental health and how to talk to other people about it could save a life. There are Mental Health First Aid courses you can take locally through organisations like Mind, often workplaces hold courses or you can access them through Community Champions schemes. I am working with the Bexley Suicide Prevention Partnership and they run regular suicide prevention courses. There’s also a short free online course you can take through the Zero Suicide Alliance.

I’ve been that person, saying ‘man up’. That’s such a damaging phrase. Society has bred the problem into us. Society is stopping people like me from talking.

Gurjit Shokar, mental health campaigner

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