Man uses poetry to tackle mental illness

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A Belfast man who endured a long battle with mental illness has encapsulated his struggle in a new book of poetry.

The poems written by Bill McKnight confront the stigma he experienced as he lived with the condition.

The 54-year-old’s published collection of works - Loud Silence - has already earned plaudits from respected international psychiatrists.

Mr McKnight now works with the Belfast Health Trust helping patients institutionalised with serious mental illnesses as they resettle in residential care and supported housing.

He said he first fell ill when he was 25 and was unable to get a job for years.

“But when I was 40 my life turned around as a result of coming to faith,” he said.

“Medication continues to play a vital role. Poetry is a direct result of the change and is often therapeutic.”

Explaining the title of the book, Mr McKnight said: “There is a loud silence in society because people want to brush the whole issue of mental illness under the carpet.”

The poetry collection, which is published today, has been produced with the support of Professor Graham Thornicroft of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London.

“Others have written about depression, but it is very unusual to speak about stigma in poetic terms, and, so far as I am aware, Bill’s work is something quite new,” he said.

Prof Thornicroft, who has written the foreword for the book, asked Mr McKnight to speak at a major international conference in London on his experiences of stigma.

The psychiatrist said Mr McKnight’s poem Friends was his favourite as “it is simple, clear and says a lot in just a tiny few words”.

Friends:

They don’t call me sad.

They don’t call me bad.

They don’t call me mad.

They don’t call me.