I lost my best friend Nelson Pratt to suicide in June 2012. It was a piercing thunderbolt straight through the heart.
Outwardly, Nelson had it all; an exceptionally talented professional snowboarder, a coach to Olympic bronze medalist Jenny Jones, loved and cherished by a wonderful family. He was the most popular person I knew with friends in all corners of the globe, he was a keen cyclist, and he drew people in with his humble charm, unflinching modesty and impeccable manners. To say he's sorely missed is an understatement of epic proportions.
Nelson struggled with bouts of depression and anxiety. As I myself have suffered, we talked about it a huge amount. But he never mentioned ending his life, not once. It just didn't seem an option with the opportunities that lay ahead and the future his life held.
This part of Nelson's story is tragically mirrored in many suicide cases, and it is the crux of the problem.
Many men just don't feel able to talk about their deepest issues and fears. To do so is weak, it's failing, it goes against every grain and sinew of the male culture and existence. We're told men are supposed to be strong, tough, and resilient. They're wired to be the breadwinner, ever-able to deal with pressure.
And so to admit defeat seems impossible. Even talking to family and close friends can be the biggest challenge of all. In me, his best friend, Nelson had a sympathetic, experienced, non-judgmental ear. But even then he couldn't reach into the deepest corners of his soul and discuss what it was that that eventually drove him to suicide.
Often when men do pluck up the courage to seek medical advice, they are failed by GPs and dwindling mental health services in their area. Nelson was told he'd have to wait six weeks for CBT therapy, despite scoring extremely high for anxiety on the assessment. He was sent away with no more than a link to a website and a couple of leaflets. Two days later he was dead.
The facts surrounding male suicide resonate with Nelson's story so clearly that it's scary. Suicide is the largest killer of men under 45 in the UK. 75% of all UK suicides last year were men. That means, on average, 12 men per day take their own lives, costing the country roughly £20 million a day. If this list of facts doesn't make you gasp for breath then I'm not sure what will.
But these facts are simply not known enough. Nationally, only 29 people in every 100 correctly identify suicide as the single biggest killer of men. I truly hope this changes and that the promises of increased funding to mental health comes to fruition - because, my god, it's needed. Men need to have confidence in what they see and feel.
Following Nelson's death, his brother and I started working with the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) and set up a cycle sportive in his honour called Nelson's Tour de Test Valley.
CALM are a charity dedicated to preventing male suicide and we love their fresh and progressive approach to tackling the subject. We wanted to create something positive from such a tragic story, to help raise awareness of the issue and to reduce stigma surrounding mental health. And, of course, raise crucial funds for CALM so they can continue to provide support for men who are down or in crisis with their free, confidential and anonymous helpline and webchat.
In the last three years the event has raised over £130,000, with nearly 3,000 riders taking part so far. We have a long way to go but we know Nelson would be proud, and we know people are talking more about their own issues and worries, which is huge for us.
Raising awareness of male suicide, mental health issues, and the massive stigma that keeps men at risk is a huge ongoing challenge that requires serious clout to cut through the noise and make a true impact.
If you'd like to support CALM and its fight to prevent male suicide, dig out your bike and come and ride Nelson's Tour de Test Valley on 17 September 2017. Nelson lives on, and he rides with us every day.
'Ride on Nelly.'