CAMPAIGN: Marcus Tisson with a picture of his mother, Margaret, who took her own life last year (Photo: East London Advertiser)
IT WAS a phone call that rocked Marcus Tisson to the core and subsequently changed the trajectory of his life forever.
“Come home now,” the voice on the other end of the phone pleaded. “It’s about your mum, she’s been hurt.”
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in August last year, but Marcus felt engulfed in darkness as he listened to the panicked voice of a family friend on the other end of the line.
As instructed, he raced back to his mother’s home in Bow, east London, where he was met by family members. In the midst of a sea of familiar faces, Marcus singled out his aunt, his mum’s sister.
“She told me my mum had died,” Marcus recalls. “She told me what had happened. It was the biggest shock of my life.”
Margaret, 59, had thrown herself in front of a train at Mile End Underground Station after a long, but secret, battle with depression which only came to light after the inquest.
“She showed no signs,” Marcus says. “She suffered in silence. If she just spoke out and sought help, I think she would be alive today.” He spoke with his mother a day before her death and recalls “laughing and talking about her 60th birthday, which fell on February 20 this year.
“I made plans for me and my kids to come around and see her on the Monday.” In an open letter, published online, he writes: “I can’t be angry at you, mum. I know you must have been in so much pain.
“All that goes through my mind is you standing at the station, finding the courage to jump, to rid yourself of the demons that were tormenting you.
“I can’t get the image out of my head of the train hitting you and the light leaving your body.”
Margaret, a popular East End dinner lady, had moved to the UK from St Lucia in the Caribbean when she was 11, a fact Marcus thinks may have played a part in the decision to withhold her battle from her family.
“My mum was a St Lucian and I think in that culture, they try and put on a brave face. She probably didn’t want to burden her kids with anything. If I knew she was depressed and going through mental health issues, it could’ve helped.”
According to the NHS, people who move from one country to another have a higher risk of mental illness. This is especially true for black people who move to predominantly white countries. They also note that “people from African and African Caribbean communities are more likely than others to be admitted to hospital for mental illness”.
GROWING UP: Marcus with his mum and sister as a child
A fact Marcus is now all too aware of. In a cruel twist of fate, tragedy struck just one month after his mother’s passing when he received news that his father had died.
Marcus’ father, to whom he was estranged, had publicly battled mental health issues throughout his life. “I think the death of my mother killed him,” Marcus says matter-of-factly.
“It was a living nightmare. I was still grieving for my mum and then I got that.” Following the death of his parents, Marcus, who has worked in a school with 11 to 15-year-olds for the past 12 years, has focused his energy on ensuring no one will have to endure what he has. He says this starts with ed- ucation and support.
Earlier this year, the father- of-two founded Don’t Suffer In Silence with friend Carly Balfourth, a support platform that allows people to talk about their experiences of men- tal health in an open and honest way and encourages more people to access support.
It came in the same month that Prime Minister Theresa May pledged that the govern- ment will take action to tackle the ‘stigma’ around mental health problems, and announced new initiatives for schools and employers to pro- vide mental health support.
“I want primary schools to learn about mental health, so by the time they reach adulthood, the stigma won’t be there nymore,” he says. “They would’ve been taught about mental health and know how to look out for the signs.”
He says he was “embarrassed” by his father’s mental health because he didn’t understand it when he was younger. “As a kid, my dad was schizophrenic and I was embarrassed by him. I didn’t want to tell people that my dad had mental health issues because you’ll get teased with peers saying ‘your dad’s a nutter’, or ‘he’s crazy’.
“I want to end that stigma.” Marcus, who currently attends counselling once a week to cope with his grief and anxiety, says he believes group therapy, offered by Don’t Suffer In Silence, is better to overcome loss.
Eventually, Marcus would like to turn his campaign group into a charity “because big companies and these big charities they don’t deal with this personally, they’re too big.
“I want to do it where I raise money and get hubs where people can go to and seek help”. On June 2, Don’t Suffer will host its inaugural ball to help raise awareness about their mission and raise funds for mental health charities, Mind and Bedazzle.
Celebrities including ex Tottenham and England footballerLedley King, actor Adam Deacon, and X Factor stars 5 After Midnight are among those set to attend.
Though his work with Don't Suffer In Silence has been applauded, he has faced pleas fr￼om his family to slow down. “My family have said, ‘you’re doing too much, you need to grieve’, but helping other people helps me grieve."
“Even if I help save or support just one person, that’s enough for me,” he says.
Don’t Suffer In Silence Charity Gala takes place on June 2 at Canary Wharf Riverside Plaza Hotel, 46 Westferry Circus, London, E14 8RS. For more information, email: email@example.com or call 07545 588 498