We need to talk about men's mental health, says partner of ‘happy’ Sheffield dad who killed himself
The grieving partner of a much-loved Sheffield dad who took his own life insists it’s time to end the stigma surrounding men’s mental health.
Daniel Walton, a 35-year-old father-of-five described by loved ones as a ‘bubbly’, ‘outgoing’ personality who enjoyed playing practical jokes and would do anything for his children, hanged himself at his home in Shiregreen last summer after a long battle with depression and anxiety.
Tammy Peet, who described him as ‘my true love’, is determined to raise awareness of mental illness and get more men talking about their problems in the hope other families can be spared the same heartbreak.
She and Daniel’s mum Sylvia also believe funding for mental health services must be vastly increased and schools should play a bigger role in equipping pupils with the tools needed to become ‘happy adults’.
Speaking following the inquest into his death last week, Tammy said: “Daniel is missed immensely by me and the five children he’s left behind, and life will never be the same.
“He was such a great dad who spoiled his kids rotten and always made time for them.
“He was a loving, caring, protective, loud, hyper at times, sweet, soft and one-of-a-kind person with a full life ahead of him….
“He was the world to us all and we're going to make memories and live life to the fullest for him.”
Tammy told how Daniel had always battled mental health demons, especially over the last six years of his life.
She described it as a series of ‘ups and downs’, adding that ‘just when you think you've got on top of it you come crashing down’.
Although she and Daniel’s mother Sylvia Whitney knew he didn’t find life easy, to others his ‘bright’, ‘bubbly’ and ‘loud’ persona, coupled with the toned physique he built at the gym, meant the man affectionately known by many as ‘legend’ didn't fit most people’s idea of what depression looks like – and they remained oblivious to his struggles.
Only after his death did Tammy realise just how many people are affected by mental illness, including some of Daniel’s friends who opened up about how they had experienced similar feelings to those which weighed so crushingly upon him.
Daniel’s inquest heard about his anxiety over work and money, and how he had been badly hit by the death of his cousin Lauren, to whom he was very close, in 2017.
But Tammy told how his death couldn’t be ascribed to any one factor, with Daniel simply feeling the blows life will inevitably deal you more keenly than other people.
Tammy and Sylvia believe much of that is down to the toxic pressure to live up to an impossible model of masculinity.
“We need to get the message out there to men that it’s OK to talk,” said Daniel’s mum.
“Just speak up about it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. There’s a stigma that you’re not a man if you cry. They say ‘man up’ but actually don’t ‘man up’, don’t try to cover up what you’re feeling, be truthful about it.
“Daniel was such an outgoing, bubbly guy, and people used to look at him and think he’s not depressed. He felt he had to battle it on his own but he didn’t.
“I still look at the bus stops where he used to stand and shout ‘I love you’ to me. One day he said to the bus driver ‘you’re going to have to hang on a second’ and he came running to the back of the bus and said ‘I love you, Mum’.
“I think coaching young men about how to deal with daily struggles is left to parents, who have to tell them it’s OK to cry and let your frustrations out rather than keeping them bottled up.”
“Young people need to be trained so they have the tools to become happy adults, and I think that needs to happen at school too.”
Daniel visited his GP many times over the years and was prescribed medication, but although Tammy has nothing but praise for the ‘fabulous’ doctors he saw she says there is too little mental health support available.
"He was assessed at Northlands (Northlands Community Health Centre, in Southey, which supports people with mental illness) about four years ago and he was so upbeat because he felt he was finally getting it sorted,” she said.
"But they referred him back to his doctor because he wasn't considered mentally ill enough for support.
"If you went to the doctors with cancer they wouldn't turn you away because your cancer's not bad enough.
"Something needs to be done sooner rather than later, before the depression gets too much….
"They have to make it easier for people to get the support they need. There aren't enough services.
“It’s also wrong that you have to pay for antidepressants, because people are usually on them for really long periods of time.”
Tammy, Sylvia and the rest of Daniel’s family and friends are set upon raising the profile of mental health, which they point out receives far less publicity than cancer.
Tammy said she was ‘so proud’ of how ‘brave’ all his children had been over the last six months.
Daniel’s 10-year-old daughter Kasey last year organised a sponsored walk in her father’s memory, in aid of Sheffield Mind, and his other children took part.
She plans to make it an annual event, which will take place again on July 25 this year – the day before the first anniversary of his death.
Daniel’s friends Andrew and Keiley Smith have set up a Facebook page, called Mens mental health walk in memory of Daniel Walton, where they plan to promote the event but also raise awareness of mental health and the support that is available, like the increasingly popular Andy’s Man Club groups.
It will also be a place for people to share their own stories about mental health, which they say will be ‘very raw and very open’ and show people how it’s possible to ‘get through the other side’ however bleak things may seem.
“It’s a legacy for Daniel. If we can pull one thing out of this awful situation it will be to raise awareness for everyone else struggling with their mental health,” said Keiley.
“You have Race for Life, which has done so much for people with cancer, and we want something similar for mental health.”
For more information about how to take part in the sponsored memorial walk, and to make a donation, visit the JustGiving page.
If you need to talk, you can call Samaritans for free at any time on 116 123, or visit samaritans.org.