Published: 16:00, 20 April 2017
When Prince Harry opened up this week about his personal battle with grief, it signalled a big step towards breaking the stigma surrounding mental health.
Admitting he was close to breakdown after years of bottling up his feelings over his mother Princess Diana’s death, he appealed to men to stop suffering in silence and to seek help, like he eventually did.
His brother, Prince William, followed suit, calling for an end to the ‘stiff upper lip’ culture seen in this country, particularly with men.
For Valerie Quenby, from Canterbury, their message holds particular significance as, last February, her son Chris took his own life after a battle with depression and anxiety.
To the outside world, the former British and European taekwondo champion was bright, outgoing and successful.
He had moved to Australia in October 2015 and was working for a backpackers’ travel firm, but planned to open a martial arts school.
A glimpse at his Facebook page showed picture after picture of his smiling face, surrounded by his many friends.
But his parents Patrick and Valerie, of The Foreland, and older sisters Sheona and Siobhan, knew he was battling inner demons.
Then last year, after being abroad for just four months, they received the devastating news he had died, believed to have taken his own life.
“If you compare mental health to what people see as an acceptable illness, it’s no different, but there is still that stigma there,” said Valerie.
“The trouble is people will only receive help and it will only work once they admit to other people they have a problem.
“It’s good to talk but not just to friends. You need to talk to somebody who knows how to get you the right treatment.”
The family have thrown themselves into raising money for mental health charity Calm (Campaign Against Living Miserably).
“The last time I looked there was more than £6,000,” said Valerie.
“I don’t know how many people we might have helped through this but I’m glad we’re doing something.”
Valerie says Prince Harry opening up shows mental illness can affect anyone.
“People might ask, why did he not access help?
“It’s not a lack of funds. It just goes back to not being able to talk about it,” she said.
“Specifically with men, because even today, even with equality, it’s still often viewed that they are the strong ones.”
The rate of suicide among men is higher than in women and is the biggest single killer of young males under 45 in the UK.
Ex-Simon Langton pupil Chris was helped by the private Promis clinic near Deal before he went abroad but Valerie says this type of treatment is not accessible through the NHS.
“With the NHS, all they are doing is giving people something to help them go to sleep or relax them,” she said.
“They don’t have the funds for the type of treatment at Promis, where they actually take you off the medication and look at the root of it.
“How can someone address the problem when they are just being given something that masks it?”
Valerie says when Chris started to go downhill in Australia he only worried about putting more pressure on his family.
“With other illnesses, like diabetes, you have treatment and it becomes manageable but you might get a blip, so they might adjust the treatment,” she said.
“But he was thinking, ‘I don’t want to put pressure on mum and dad’ – he was very money conscious.
“So he didn’t use the safeguard we’d set up for him. He started to think he would be a failure and he’d be letting people down.”
Valerie admits the family has found it hard to cope but she has been helped by bereavement group Sobs (Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide) in Ashford.
She said: “It has really helped me. I don’t think I would have survived if I didn’t have my other two children.
“All I would say is live each day as if it is your last. When you go to sleep at night be proud of yourself.”
To donate visit the Chris Quenby Just Giving page.
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