"He'll Always Be 23" - Why Today's Date Is One That I'll Never Ever Forget Until The Day I Die

The 10th of October is 'World Mental Health Day'.

World Mental Health Day Main

In 2010, I was a temperamental, spotty teenager who was doing anything but studying for his Junior Cert.

I was only 15 but, like most teenagers, I thought I knew it all. I disobeyed my parents, argued with my sister and could be found either trying to drink two cans of cider in a field in Westport over the duration of 6 hours or listening to music.

I loved music, I still do of course but there's some songs that I listened to so intensely in this period that I physically can't listen to the first chord of them now without switching it over.

This was the year that I got into music in a big way. I had a guitar since I was 11 but 2010 was when I broadened my horizon and learned songs that weren't just popular or in the charts.

I got into Oasis, The Beatles, Green Day, U2, Manic Street Preachers, The Who, The Stone Roses and Stereophonics in a big way.

One of the first new wave of songs that I learned (on the musical instrument that my parents had bought me one Christmas. I begged them to get it after my cousin said to me that it made girls like you more, oh how naive) was 'Local Boy In The Photograph' by Welsh rockers, Stereophonics.

There's a simple chord progression that makes it easy to learn on guitar. It was inspired by a real life event in the area where they grew up.

A boy in the band's area had committed suicide, he jumped on the tracks as an oncoming train approached.

Frontman, Kelly Jones said in a Sky Arts Programme in 2011 about the song that:

"I used to play kind of county football... and there was a kid that used to play right back. I got to know him pretty well.

"He was a really cool kid and he was a good looking kid. He was kind of one of those ones that you looked and thought, ‘He’s got it all.’

“And then few years later we found out he jumped in front of a train and we were all a bit shocked by it and we read about it in the local paper. There was a picture of him smoking a - which I think it was a joint actually. And that's the picture [the paper] used and it said 'local boy' in the photograph.

“I’d never really known anybody our age to do that, to kind of end their life and nobody really knew why he ended his life. And when you’re 18 or 19 you’re quite naive and you just write everything down.

“And it was just more about a celebration of his life than was about his death, really, about the kid sitting on the bank drinking, and lots of imagery of the seasons and the clocks going back and I that’s when I found that descriptive writing is what people would stop and listen to really.”

Despite what this song is about, what happened in 2010 mixed with the fact that I'm very sick of certain songs from that era, the Stereophonics track and its lyrics is something that I still listen to from time to time.

"There's no mistake, I smell that smell, it's that time of year again. I can taste the air."

10/10/10, such an easy date to remember but one that life made sure I would never forget.

Our home house got a phone call.

I answered.

I was in the height of puberty at the time which meant sometimes I'd answer and get mistaken for dad and other times I'd answer, voice would break and I'd get mistaken for mam.

Normally whoever was on the end of the phone would just pass the message on to me and I'd tell my parents but when I was told that they had something to say and to "put your father on the phone", I knew it couldn't have been a good sign.

I didn't know my cousin well at all.

He was the closest other lad cousin in age to me on my dad's side but I was just at that shitty age where you're not old enough to be hanging out in nightclubs and pubs where you might bump into these people.

I always felt that if I was another year or two older or he was a year or two younger, we might have been closer.

We might have talked, he might have talked, I would have listened and I might have said something that would have made him see things in a different light.

The small word 'might' is just too big for this situation though sadly.

"And all the friends lay down the flowers. Sit on the banks and drink for hours. Talk of the way they saw him last. Local boy in the photograph."

Like Kelly Jones had explained about the tragic death that inspired his song, the people who you think are the happiest in the world, are the ones that could really be struggling in real life.

Friends of my cousins spoke highly of him and shared stories about all the craic they had had with him and how it came as a huge shock.

At the time, I didn't understand how this could be a 'shock', that surely the tell tale signs would be there.

But, more often than not, they aren't.

Suicide and Mental Health is something that touches every person in some way. Whether its a friend, a family member or maybe even yourself.

Back then, I would have thought that you wait for the tell tale signs but as many incidents and episodes have taught me since, you don't wait for the signs.

"He'll always be 23."

Just like in the song, my cousin was just in his early 20s. He had his whole life ahead of him. I remember looking into his coffin and thinking to myself what sort of demons must he have battled to realise that there was no other option but this.

I thought to myself "what if in 8 years time, when I'm 23, I feel like he did and have no other choice."

And immediately I cancelled that thought and swore to myself that I would always talk to someone if I felt down or out of sorts.

Or make sure that I was always a support for any of my friends who might need a chat too.

Now, eight years later, I am 23. The same age as he was and I'm a hypocrite.

I am the last person who would ever talk about their feelings despite belling on to my friends how it's good to talk if they're feeling down.

I bottle most things up and then they all come pouring out of me on a random Tuesday because the wheel of my tyre is flat and it feels like the whole universe is against me.

It's strange because I know it's okay not to be okay and I know I should talk about some things, whether it's work, relationships, friendships or life in general.

I wasn't brought up in a "lads don't cry environment", sadly, it's just the way I'm programmed.

But thankfully, there's some people in my life that just know when something isn't right with me, who ask the right question and who end up getting the information out of me.

For many, this is not the case as recent statistics show.

Last year, nearly 400 people died by suicide in 2017. Almost eight out of ten of those deaths were male.

Yes, there has been a decline in suicide deaths in Ireland from 2016 compared to last year, but only by 7 people, not percent, people.

That's less than 1% of a decrease.

Lads need to start talking.

I'm lucky to have those few people that can detect that something is wrong with me but that shouldn't even be the case.

When you're out for a pint, or at training and when you're talking about the match, or the girl you shifted on Friday night or the pothole that's damaging your car, just throw in the line "everything okay with you" or "anything on your mind".

And for people who, like me, are "programmed not to talk", you have to share your problem with a close friend.

I don't care how small it is. Work is shit, share it. Your having problems with your relationship, share it.

You can't sleep at night because every little problem that you didn't share has now turned into one big problem and you think there's no way out.

Share. It.

It's never too late to start because for one, it'll be the start of completely lifting that weight off your shoulder or better still, it might instigate a conversation for whoever you're talking to and help them share and lift an even bigger weight off theirs.

Now, more than ever is an important time to urge people to talk, especially young men.

Over 2,500 young people are currently waiting for access to mental health services, that's just young people.

For someone in a crisis, it might feel like there's nobody out there to talk to but there is, there's always someone.

Pieta House (01) 6010000

Samaritans (your nearest branch number can be found here).

Aware 1800 80 48 48

Mental Health First Aid 116 123

These organisations are just a small chunk of the many that are out there who will help you get the help you need.

And if you are worried about someone who won't talk to you despite your best efforts, these are some of the signs that they might be suffering.

  • Confused thinking
  • Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
  • Feelings of extreme highs and lows
  • Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Strong feelings of anger
  • Strange thoughts (delusions)
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren't there (hallucinations)
  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Numerous unexplained physical ailments
  • Substance use

My cousin's death falling on the 10th of October, World Mental Health Day, is an extra reminder every year of just how important your Mental Health is and how important it is to speak out, speak to or speak with someone.

The era of 'Local Boy In The Photograph' needs to change and quickly.

Written By

Darragh Berry

Darragh is a Mayo GAA fan for all his sins. He taught himself how to play guitar at the age of 11 and hasn't stopped playing Wonderwall since. Gets lost on the streets of Dublin as frequently as Mayo lose All-Ireland Finals. Contact - darragh@lovin.com

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