Last week I met Matt. A young
man, calmly determined to share his story and open up a rainbow that would
envelop the world and knit it closer together. A story of a glorious love, a damning
shame and a tragic unnecessary death.
Matt and Naz met in Birmingham in the year 2000 and instantly fell in love. Matt Ogston and Dr Nazim Mahmood. Both men. Men in love. They tried having a relationship in that city but knew that if they wanted to live like normal people doing normal things, they’d have to move away. So, they did. Over the next 13 years they built and lived a fulfilled and happy life together in London. All this time they managed to hide their gayness from Naz’s family as it was guaranteed to create unhappiness.
One weekend Naz needed to go back to Birmingham for a family event. The question of his sexuality came up and he spoke the truth. As expected, his family reacted badly. He was told that he was living in ‘sin’ and his ‘condition’ was treatable. I cannot imagine how he must have felt. Deeply humiliated I guess. That day he must have known that now, he could never be the man he was born to be. His love for his fiancé would always be seen as sin by others he deeply loved.
He returned to London. To
Matt. Two days later he ended his life.
In his utter devastation, Matt found the determination to do what he could, to stop religion from getting in the way of love. He set up the Naz and Matt Foundation.
“Our mission is to never let
religion, any religion, come in the way of the unconditional love between
parents and their children.”
Yesterday our Prime Minister put Mental health at the top of the national agenda. Great to have these focussed conversations in prominent places with special emphasis on schools and work places being equipped to intervene early for children and young people with difficulties. These announcements are welcome but are also met with a slow applause as this government does not have a great track record with the NHS.
“Schools will be linked to local NHS #mentalhealth services to support early intervention for Children and Young People” in PM speech.
“You can make the promises, but you need the workforce to deliver them.”
“Biggest challenge PM faces -getting funding to the front line. Services over-pressed, under-staffed + facing even more demands.” – President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
In my opinion, as long as we stick strictly to the medical model of mental illness we will never get it right as it does not put enough emphasis on prevention. We need to start with educating young parents about the family, environmental, individual and social factors that contribute to the mental well being of a child.
Thereafter the schools need to be aware that if a child is happy, he or she is more likely to perform well. Hence putting them under academic pressure can be counterproductive. Bullying policies must be strictly implemented. Kids must be allowed to fail sometimes. There is grace and learning in defeat.
By no means do I claim to have all the answers but this would be a good start. Prevention is better than cure.
For a long time I didn’t understand why Saagar couldn’t speak to me about his suicidal thoughts. I felt terrible about myself – untrustworthy. In short, Bad Mum. I thought we were close. When he took his own life, I felt betrayed and shunned like an outsider. He must have known that I cared for him deeply even if I didn’t always know how to show it. I am sure he felt the vastness of our love as much as I did. It glued us together and carried us as one through thick and thin. It was the most solid part of my life, unwavering, undying and unfaltering.
What stopped him? Why couldn’t he? In the early months it nearly killed me, the utter and complete sense of failure as a parent. How alone must he have felt! Was he embarrassed? Ashamed? Confused? Did he feel trapped? Why couldn’t I see it? Was it out of concern for me that he didn’t share? Did he know that I would probably freak out if he did? Could he feel my pain as I watched him suffer? Could he see how lost and powerless I felt? Was his silence his way of being kind to me? Did he really believe that I would be better off without him? Did he even know the meaning of what he was doing?
All these unanswerable haunting questions coming back uninvited! But now, I can understand.
ps: If you are concerned about anyone close to you, please call PAPYRUS for help and advice. I wish I knew of them when Saagar was ill. (https://www.papyrus-uk.org/)