When Rio Ferdinand’s wife Rebecca died from breast cancer in May 2015, aged just 34, he was left a single parent to three children under ten. The footballer’s immediate thoughts focused on ‘all the basic stuff – sorting out the funeral, what to do with the children, the school run, making sure everyone was all right. You don’t really look at yourself.’
It wasn’t until the winter, when he started talking to his old friend Jamie Moralee, that Rio realised it was hard bottling things up: ‘You get angry, you get upset, you get emotional, you get depressed and it isn’t good for you or the network of people around you.’
Rio and Jamie recall that first conversation in a short film for Heads Together (headstogether.org.uk), the mental health campaign founded by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry that aims to get people talking about their feelings. Outlining the campaign’s vision for 2017, the Duchess said: ‘The challenge that so many people have is not knowing how to take that first step of reaching out to another person for help. Fear, reticence or a sense of not wanting to burden another means that people suffer in silence – allowing the problem to grow larger and larger.’
That’s when having another person listening can make all the difference. Jamie wanted to talk to Rio about his loss ‘from day one, but I didn’t know the right timing. It was six months after Rebecca’s passing that I plucked up the courage to say, “How are you?” and mention some memories of Rebecca and what a fantastic lady she was.’ That got the two old friends talking and ‘we ended up crying our eyes out on the beach’.
For Rio, ‘talking about feelings was a release. In these situations, you need to get your feelings out. It’s like a cleanse and it doesn’t just help you, it helps all the people close to you to feel more comfortable.’
Rio and Jamie’s dialogue is part of an online series of films for Heads Together, showing conversations between people from all walks of life. Another features two NHS ambulance workers, Dan and Rich. Dan attended a call that affected him severely: ‘It was the worst thing I had ever seen.’ The experience triggered vivid flashbacks and Dan began ‘smoking, drinking and not sleeping – and getting into a deeper hole day by day. I didn’t know what to do to get out of it.’ Eventually, he texted his colleague Rich and they started talking. Rich confesses he was worried about what to say to someone going through a crisis: ‘It was nerve-racking, but I kept thinking it was nowhere near as bad as what Dan was going through.’ Dan also had misgivings: ‘I thought it was going to be one of the most difficult things I would ever do but, actually, it wasjust a conversation between two friends.’
Mental health charity Mind (mind.org.uk) has a useful section on helping others on its website, under Information and Support. Calm, the campaign against living miserably (thecalmzone.net, helpline/0800-585858, open 5pm to midnight), offers help to people who are worried about someone they know feeling suicidal. Both charities are part of the Heads Together coalition.
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