Suicide awareness campaign begins as dad of George Hackney tells young men to lose the 'boys don't cry' mindset

George Hackney was like many other teenage lads - he enjoyed playing Fifa and Call of Duty on his X-Box, spending time with his friends and working as a swimming instructor.

By Richard Beecham
Monday, 16th May 2022, 4:45 am
Steve, centre, along with George's sisters Rebecca and Charlotte, with family and friends at an event in 2020 to celebrate George's life.
Steve, centre, along with George's sisters Rebecca and Charlotte, with family and friends at an event in 2020 to celebrate George's life.

But it was at the age of 19 when his mental health suddenly took a dark turn.

A months-long battle with severe mental health issues ensued, which included two psychotic episodes in the space of seven months, before George took his own life in June 2020.

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Members of his family now say they want young men to feel free to speak out about struggles they experience, with his father calling for men everywhere to ditch the the "boys don't cry" mantra.

The calls come as health chiefs in West Yorkshire are about to start a new campaign to create awareness around the issue of male suicide.

Despite George seeming okay on the surface during his teenage years, he told his dad during his last few months that he had suffered from anxiety and depression since he was 15. Stephen feels these stresses could have ultimately contributed to his son's later problems.

"None of his friends knew he was struggling," Stephen said. "We often don't know what is going on between people's ears, and we need to be careful with what we say. What to one person is a joke can be taken anopther way by someone else.

"We were all brought up with the expression 'boys don't cry' and 'man up' - my son George was into that - he loved playing Call of Duty on his X-Box, and that is mainly a male thing where there is a lot of violence - we get exposed to these things.

"I lost George and it was a terrible blow - is there a pipeline in the future that gives me any hope that we can help other people who have struggles with their mental health?"

He referred to studies on other chemicals, such as Psilocybin, in the United States to treat depression, adding: "There are a lot of people suffering from depression who can't contribute to society and it's a big problem.

"I feel encouraged that the Americans are dealing with it in the right way."

West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership is launching a new campaign today to create awareness around male suicides, and is urging everyone to get involved.

The campaign, which builds on the partnership’s ‘check-in’ suicide prevention campaign, aims to promote a wellbeing culture by normalising the conversation around suicide and mental health, and raising awareness of the risk factors that may lead to suicide.

Messages include "Is your sporty mate suddenly off his game?", "Does your mate always want to have one too many?" and "Has your mate left service but he’s still fighting?".

Developed with local men and built from their experiences, the resources can be used publicly in various places – in person and virtually, such as What’s App groups, on Facebook and Instagram, in workplaces, community groups.

Office for National Statistics data shows that suicide is more common in West Yorkshire than in England as a whole, with significantly more men taking their own lives than women. There were 235 deaths registered as suicides in West Yorkshire in 2020, with an average of 4.5 people per week.

Jess Parker, Project Manager for WYHCP suicide prevention programme, said: "I would encourage everyone to check in with the men in their lives to ask if they are ok. We have developed strong momentum around making suicide prevention everyone's business. We all have a part to play in combatting stigma and identifying men in our lives who are going through struggles and ask them if they need help."

Surinder Rall, service lead for West Yorkshire Suicide Bereavement Service, said: "I lost both my father and my uncle to suicide. So, I speak from experience when I say that we should all work together to combat the stigma and talk more about suicide. To achieve our target of zero suicides in West Yorkshire, we must continue to talk and ask each other about mental health and suicide. That's what the check-in campaign is all about."

For more information, click here.