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Hussain Manawer: ‘From sadness, I created beautiful things’

Hussain Manawer suffered depression after he lost his mum in 2017. On this week’s BetterPod, he explains how he rediscovered hope.

After his mum died suddenly in 2017, Hussain Manawer struggled with depression. But through the support of his family and friends, and the power of poetry, he found a way through. Now a mental health campaigner whose global fan base includes the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry, he has just released his debut poetry collection, Life is Sad and Beautiful.

He joined BetterPod – The Big Issue’s weekly interview podcast that examines how we can all act today for a better tomorrow – for an emotional conversation about tackling grief and building a society that’s better for our mental wellbeing.

This is an abridged version of the BetterPod conversation. Listen to the full podcast here, or where you normally listen to podcasts. Come back every Wednesday for more, and join in the conversation on social media using #BetterPod

The Big Issue: You have called your new poetry book Life Is Sad And Beautiful. What does that title mean to you?

Hussain Manawer: I found that life is really sad at times, but if you work at it, life can be beautiful. It’s from all the sadness that I have been through that I was able to create beautiful things.

You lost your mum in 2017. Could you tell us a bit about her?

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She was a very special woman. I remind myself every day how lucky I was to experience a loving mother. She always pushed us to do our best. Grief is hard, and heartbreak is tough. My brother once said mum can teach you everything, but she can’t teach you how to live without her. She always used to say when I’m no longer here, I want you to cry and get over it. I thank her for these words that went on to help my state of mind.

We talk a lot in this podcast about changes we can make today for a better tomorrow. Why do you think it’s important that mental wellbeing is part of that conversation?

There is a huge shift in our behaviour, in how we use technology. It’s become so ingrained into daily life, we are unable to function without it. Think of a child of 10 years old growing up with this amount of technology. It’s dangerous for your mind, it’s dangerous for your wellbeing, and it’s dangerous for your identity as a person. Being exposed to these things at a time when your mind is so vulnerable is dangerous. I feel as though we need to police ourselves to save ourselves from ourselves. We’re being consumed by consumption.

Men are much more likely to die by suicide than women. What can be done to reduce that number?

I think it’s really important that we create a mentally, emotionally and psychologically safe environment. Where you ask someone a question, let them answer it and believe the answer that you’re hearing. Listen to your friends and your family members, pick up on behaviour patterns and ask the right question at the right time. The problem is everybody gets caught up. Therapy is something I always
advise people to take, if you can afford it. Not everybody can.

Life is Sad and Beautiful by Hussain Manawer is out now (Yellow Kite, £12.99)

What is one bit of advice that you wish you had known earlier?

Nobody knows what they’re doing. Don’t worry, relax.

What’s one thing that our listeners could do today to make tomorrow better?

Dreams, goals, aspirations: just get on with it. I’ve realised nobody is going to come and do it for you. Small steps win the race. You could do something small today, and again tomorrow, then have a better routine than you had to begin with. We have these goals and we have these dreams and aspirations, sometimes we say we’re going to do it when we don’t ever do it. Do it right now. It’s important because time is short.

You have worked with some big names like Oprah Winfrey and Princes William and Harry. Why do you think your work has resonated so widely?

I don’t stop and think about who I’ve worked with, or what I’ve done. I feel like it can be overwhelming. We must encourage people to talk about mental health. I’ve learned, from my own experience, to always be more empathetic. I’ve gone through depression and managed to come out. It’s very easy to graduate from depression and think you don’t even need to go there again. But we now should pass the baton on.

Life is Sad and Beautiful by Hussain Manawer is out now (Yellow Kite, £12.99)

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