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Chris Packham hopes new show will help young people with mental health issues

·3-min read

Chris Packham has said he hopes his forthcoming programme, in which he discusses living with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome, will help young people who cannot see “a tunnel, let alone the light at the end of it”.

The presenter and environmentalist, 60, appears in BBC Two production The Walk That Made Me, in which he travels the Hampshire countryside of his youth and follows the River Itchen and Itchen Navigation with a hand-held 360-degree camera.

On his journey from outside Southampton to Winchester Cathedral he discusses travelling the same area with his father and how the natural world helped him overcome isolation and depression as a young man.

(Tim Smith/BBC)
(Tim Smith/BBC)

Packham, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in his 20s, told the PA news agency: “I was very lucky to get through that period of my life.

“I absolutely loathe the idea that as we speak now, as that programme goes out, there will be teenagers in their bedroom reading Baudelaire and getting really depressed and not seeing a tunnel, let alone the light at the end of it.

“And that, I think, is unfair, because for me things should be about creative progress and that only comes through constructive dialogue and conversation.

“So I want to have conversations about that sort of thing to get people thinking so that they better understand it, and can offer help to those people that are bound to be in the same position that I was it.

“There’s no doubt about that.”

(Tim Smith/BBC)
(Tim Smith/BBC)

He added: “I read in the newspaper about teenage suicide rates.

“I read about people who were taking their lives after exposure to things on social media.

“I could have done that.

“I came so close to doing that and yet in the aftermath my life has been incredibly fulfilled.

“So anything that I can do to get other people to reach out to these young people when they are isolated, either through mental health issues, or a combination of autism and mental health issues.

“Then even if one person benefits from it in one small way then I might have done my job and that’s one (thing) that I feel that it’s important to do.

“I don’t know whether that sounds worthy.

“It’s very much a personal thing.”

Packham also praised the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex for speaking openly about their mental health issues in the wake of the death of their mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997.

He added: “That’s why I applaud things like the young royals that have spoken so openly about the mental health issues that they had in regard to the tragic death of their mother.

(Tim Smith/BBC)
(Tim Smith/BBC)

“That’s brilliant.

“They’ve got a much higher profile than I’ve got and they’ve found the courage to come out and talk about those things.

“I think that’s just fantastic.”

Packham said he had not intended to speak so openly during the walk about his memories of living with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome and experiencing suicidal thoughts.

The naturalist, who has presented the BBC Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch programmes, said he had “wanted to talk about the value of life and that led to me speaking about how close I’d come to exiting mine”.

“I don’t think that I’ve ever spoken to my partner and we’ve been together for a long time,” he said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever told her about my 18th birthday because it’s not something that I remember with enormous fondness.

“It was a terrible, terrible time.

“She’ll probably say ‘You never told me that’.

“So no I didn’t pre-plan it.

“It just flowed out.”

Chris Packham: The Walk That Made Me is on BBC Two at 8pm on July 28 and on iPlayer.

– Anyone in need of confidential emotional support can call Samaritans free on 116 123 or by emailing jo@samaritans.org or visiting Samaritans.org.

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