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NICKY MARR: Mikeysline founder Ron Williamson remembered for being the change for mental health

By Nicky Marr

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Ron Williamson.
Ron Williamson.

How are you doing? Are you OK?

These questions trip off my lips dozens of times a day, in every phone call, Zoom meeting, text chat with friends, or catch-up. We seem almost conditioned as humans to ask after each other, but how often do we expect an honest reply, and how honest are we when we respond?

If we do respond, if it’s with more than a bland ‘fine, thanks’, or a jokey ‘don’t ask’, we’ll probably talk about our physical ailments; a creaky back or feeling impossibly tired.

We’re far less likely to open up about our mental health. To admit to being stressed, anxious, or depressed, that we’re struggling with feelings of worthlessness, or that we’re caught in a spiral of negative thoughts. That would be a sign of weakness, wouldn’t it?

Although we all know that the stigma around mental health is lifting, sometimes it still feels too exposing to admit that we are not OK. We don’t want to be seen as not coping. We fear being judged. Who wants to hear all that uncomfortable stuff anyway?

Last Thursday evening I hosted a round-table dinner at the Macdonald Aviemore Resort, where the whole conversation was about the uncomfortable stuff.

Sponsored by Kenny McMillan, the effervescent and energetic manager at the resort, and organised by charity Mikeysline, mental health was our main topic of conversation.

I’ve hosted scores of these dinners before, usually with a mixture of guests from the business, public, and charity sectors, and usually discussing a range of topics, including business challenges and politics. I’d never previously worried about the terminology I should use, or that the conversation might spiral into darkness, but it turns out I needn’t have worried on Thursday either.

Over delicious food and paired wines we each opened up, and we listened. We held space for each other as we showed vulnerability. And I doubt that there was a single person in the room who, as well as learning about the extraordinary impact of Mikeysline, didn’t feel a little unburdened by our conversation. Connections were made. Barriers broken down.

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Mikeysline is a grassroots charity that came after tragedy, the suicides of young Highland men like Mikey, who felt they had nowhere to go, and no one to turn to when they were not OK.

Founder Ron Williamson, who passed away recently, was Mikey’s uncle. Ron felt a need to tackle the heartbreaking suicide rates among young Highland men. Starting humbly, with a single phone that was passed round volunteers who offered support by text, the charity has grown over the years into an organisation with a dozen staff and over 40 volunteers. And there is bold ambition to do more. Hence our dinner in Strathspey.

The dinner wasn’t a fundraiser, more of an invitation to the businesses around the table to ‘Bee the Change’ for mental health. That might include supporting the charity through fundraising or offering benefits in kind, but equally it might be about opening their own company’s doors to a mental health workshop for staff or planting the seed about becoming a community mental health champion.

We talked about what support is needed for staff, and about each of us being the change for our communities. And we talked about what the individuals round the table need for themselves.

Just by being there, each of us has started to ‘Bee the Change’. Each now knows where to find support and has experienced that having open and honest conversations about mental health doesn’t end the world.

Mikeysline changes and saves lives. I can’t put it more succinctly. If you’re doing OK just now, could you help others? And if you’re not, whoever you are, I know someone that can help.

We’ve only had Mikeysline since late 2015. We’ll never know how many lives have been saved or changed as a result. What a legacy Ron has left.

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