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It’s not just what Jono said – it’s how he said it

Through tears, Jono Pryor used the final minutes of Jono and Ben last night to shine a light on mental health following the recent suicide of a friend. Jess McAllen discusses the impact of such a raw television moment. 

The following article contains discussion around mental health and suicide.

I’ll let you in on a secret: a few years ago, after a night at a guy’s house, I’d get up at 5AM, brush my teeth and scurry back into bed, hoping to give the illusion of perfect morning breath. Like such a thing existed. Perhaps more outrageously still: I’d hide my medication, swallowing it only after I was sure he had gone to sleep.

It’s hard to express just how much it means to hear someone on prime-time live television say that “no one thinks any less of you for taking medication” as Jono Pryor did in the final moments of Jono and Ben last night. He was talking about the funeral of a close friend who had recently killed himself.

It went like this: Ben Boyce patted Jono on the back. Jono said “fuck” and looked like he was going to burst into tears. Ben, in full I’m-on-live-TV-mode tried to smooth things with “you’re alright, you’re alright man, ah yeah so if you – ”

But then – importantly – Jono interrupted him. He put his hand on Ben’s shoulder, determined:

I just want to say one thing. If you are suffering a mental illness, no one thinks less of you for not talking… I mean for sharing your thoughts. No one thinks less of you for taking medicine and no one thinks less of you for dealing with a mental illness. Just talk about it.

He pushed through the dreaded wobbly crying voice to say it. He didn’t let the show wrap up without saying it. He was vulnerable. He didn’t preach. He didn’t act like he had all the answers to suicide.

What he did was simple but also so very rare when you are in that dark place and need it the most: he showed acceptance.

The comedy show has been recently burned by media for its move to a live format but – and I accept bias here with friends who are cast members – is there any other way a message like this could have been delivered? Those unscripted, raw moments of live TV are what grip us and move us. Live TV ushered the imminent destruction of a certain X Factor NZ judge’s career.

Live TV last night likely opened up hundreds of conversations that needed to be happening.

While I’m sure some type of message had been planned – a banner for Lifeline’s contact number scrolled across the screen as Jono talked – in his delivery I saw the eyes of every friend who gives you that gut-wrenching look when you say you’re thinking of death. I’ve lost a good friend to suicide, I’ve also attempted.

I grew sick of well-meaning but unhelpful slogans and platitudes years ago, but this touched me.

Jono also showed courage. It’s hard enough bringing up a sensitive topic to one co-worker, let alone asking if you can make an emotional plea at the end of a show that featured gags about Trump’s Wall and an ex-Geordie Shore cast member pranking customers in Glassons.

His actions speak volumes about what that friendship meant to him.

Battling mental illness is like swatting flies, you think you’ve got one out of the way when you start taking medication only to have five more wearing Positive Mental Attitude t-shirts buzzing at you with  “why don’t you try yoga”, “just exercise”, “but paleo”!

We have a long way to go with educating people about mental illness and one of the biggest stigma is in medication. This is why Jono positively talking about medication was so significant – it’s something that’s often missing in the suicide prevention dialogue. I’m not in the hands of Big Pharma and maybe “step forward” is just more marketable than “don’t forget your meds today” but finding proper treatment is the difference between life and death.

The medications I take are Epilim (mood stabiliser), Fluoxetine (antidepressant) and – occasionally – the sleeping pill Zopiclone (best avoided long term).

Plenty of people avoid even trying out antidepressants because they have this idea it will flatten their creativity. Parents will try anything other than giving their teenager a pill because of widely publicised side effects. Advocacy groups email me with the latest research in why psychiatric medication will kill you – usually from scientologists. Stigma extends to professionals too: with doctors often reluctant to prescribe ADHD medication like ritalin because of its reincarnation as a party drug.

The nausea from Epilim gets to me at times. Having to play around with dosages of Fluoxetine – and the subsequent drowsiness – leaves me wishing for one of those elusive normal brains. It’s a pain but even more of a pain would be being dead.

Just as I stopped pretending I was forever minty fresh, after my suicide attempt in 2014 I re-evaluated what I looked for in friends and flings. Because good friends, the ones that truly care, are accepting. Jono showed an example of how to be a mate last night. And where I once subtly shoved my medication in my mouth when someone looked the other way, I started to delight in popping pills in front of people, daring for a reaction.

The funny thing: no one said a word.


Where to get help:

Lifeline – 0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Depression Helpline  – 0800 111 757 – this service is staffed 24/7 by trained counsellors

Samaritans  – 0800 726 666

Youthline (open 24/7) – 0800 376 633. Text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email talk@youthline.co.nz.

0800 WHATSUP (0800 9428 787) – Open between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at www.whatsup.co.nz.

Healthline – 0800 611 116

For more information about support and services available to you, contact the Mental Health Foundation’s free Resource and Information Service on 09 623 4812 during office hours or email info@mentalhealth.org.nz

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