TV and radio presenter Roman Kemp’s BBC documentary, Our Silent Emergency, explores the mental health and suicide crisis affecting young men.
The one-hour doc, which aired on March 16 and is available to watch on iPlayer, follows Roman searching for answers after losing his best friend. He wanted to investigate why so many men take their own lives across the UK – and why they don’t talk about what they’re going through. The show has been praised by celebrity friends of Kemp’s, as well as mental health organisations.
Former One Directioner, Niall Horan, tweeted saying he was “so proud” of Kemp for an “eye opening and beautiful” documentary, while Rory O’Connor, director of the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory who features in the doc, said the programme was “great to see” and shared a link to more information on how we can help friends who may feel suicidal.
Here are five things we learned from the documentary.
You may not truly know the mental state of your close friends – but there are ways you can help
Kemp’s producer on his Capital FM Breakfast Show, Joe Lyons, died suddenly in August 2020. In the documentary, the 27-year-old says he had “no idea” the fun-loving guy he saw as a brother was struggling with his mental health.
“He was struggling with something we couldn’t see,” said Kemp, in the doc. “More than three quarters of men feel unable to confide in those closest to them about their problems. It’s no coincidence that on the same day we lost Joe, the police force found seven other men his age in the same situation.”
Kemp meets a group of teenage males from Northern Ireland whose friend – Carl, “the class clown” – died in May 2020, aged 15. The presenter and the group discuss that none of these men knew their friend was suffering.
Through speaking with the group and the support workers helping them through their trauma, the presenter learned that opening up conversations can be vital in preventing tragedies from taking place.
Telling a friend you’re there for them at the end of a phone can be a literal lifeline
Through conversations with experts, and those who have previously attempted suicide or had suicidal thoughts, the documentary reveals that something as simple as telling a friend you’re there for them on the phone if they ever get to a dark place is vital.
Professor O’Connor, director of the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory, explains men often can feel “a sense of entrapment” over life stresses, which leads more of them to take their own lives, as they can’t see a way out. This is why it can be crucial to let them know you’re there if they ever need to talk.
Roman has struggled with his mental health, too
In the documentary, Roman discusses his history with depression and his medication. “These are thoughts that I’ve been dealing with in my own head since I was around 15,” he said. “I guess when I’m in that place where I haven’t taken my meds there’s a part of me that just [thinks] there’s no way out.”
Kemp says he finds the experience of talking with others about mental health cathartic – as a viewer, it’s saddening, but heartening, too, to watch the presenter open up to his parents about his struggles.
“I’d never spoken to them about the depths of it. It was a nice moment,” Kemp writes in an article for the BBC, where he says filming the show was like therapy. His bravery shows that being able to talk about our problems – even if they can feel like huge mountains in our minds – can be a relief.
There are specific actions we can take to help those struggling
“People who die by suicide are usually trapped by mental pain, that they feel a burden on others,” writes Professor O’Connor in a blog post about the documentary, which shares more useful advice on how we can all help.
Prof O’Connor has developed a six-step safety plan for people to follow who feel they may be a risk to themselves. Allies can share the document with friends and loved ones. “Its aim is to identify warning signs as well as techniques to help keep someone safe,” he says.
“Only a brief bit of my description of safety planning was included [in the documentary], so here is a list of the six steps of safety planning.”
Toxic masculinity is likely driving men to dark thoughts
“No matter what, there is still an idea that the man is the breadwinner of the family,” Kemp says in the documentary. “The man is the person that has to have a family, has to find the perfect person and be happy with them, have kids and help them financially. And sometimes that pressure for guys is too much.”
Professor O’Connor agrees, and adds: “So if we’re trying to understand the fact that three-quarters of all suicides in the UK are by men, then we need to understand there are a whole range of factors – something’s impacting on your sense of masculinity or it could be social inequality.
“And men are less likely to seek help and that all comes together into this sense of entrapment [where] suicidal thoughts are more likely.”
The broadest message is that simply having conversations can help men overcome the sense of feeling entrapped by life. Talking, whether it be on the phone, in person or via text, is often life-saving. Providing a platform to allow them to share their feelings by instigating a conversation is vital.
Mind, the mental health charity, shared this message with us after watching the show
“We commend Roman Kemp for using his platform to speak out about his experiences of mental health problems and shine a spotlight on male suicide, which remains the leading cause of death in men under the age of 45,” said Stephen Buckley Head of Information at Mind.
“Mind’s Get It Off Your Chest report, commissioned in partnership with the English Football League, showed men’s help-seeking behaviour and their ability to speak openly about their mental health has improved to a degree over the last decade. However, the report also revealed that 45 per cent of men say they feel worried or low more regularly than ten years ago, and are consequently twice as likely to feel suicidal.
“The reasons behind suicide are complex and will vary in each individual, but we know factors such as believing that seeking help might be seen as a sign of weakness, or not knowing where to access support, can prevent those of us with mental health problems from getting help.
“Therefore, by sharing experiences and highlighting what support is available, we can help others feel less alone, challenge stigma and encourage honest and open conversations.
“If you, or someone you love, is experiencing suicidal thoughts, it’s important to seek help and remember that with the right treatment and support, the majority of people who have felt suicidal will go on to live fulfilling lives.”
What to do if you’re feeling suicidal or think a loved one might be:
- If you’re feeling suicidal, and you don’t feel you can keep yourself safe right now, seek immediate help. Go to any hospital A&E department, or call 999 and ask for an ambulance if you can’t get there yourself. Keep yourself safe by removing any means of taking your own life while you learn how to cope with suicidal feelings.
- If you’re worried someone you live with might harm themselves, stay with them and help them get emergency help.
- Lots of people fear talking about suicide but speaking about suicide responsibly is important and doesn’t increase the risk that someone will take their own life. So continue to reach out – although it might not be possible to see loved ones face-to-face, regularly checking in - by text, email, phone or video call - can really help.
- If someone is feeling suicidal, reassure them that it is possible to do something to improve their situation in a caring and sympathetic way. It takes a lot for someone to say “I need help”, but it doesn’t hurt to raise the subject yourself. Sometimes you don’t have to explicitly talk about mental health to find out how they are doing– it can be as simple as texting them to let them know you’re thinking of them.
- If you can’t see loved ones in person, it might feel even more difficult to reach out for help. But any contact could help someone who is suicidal feel less alone, and there are organisations that can help which are open and there for you.
- The Samaritans provide a free, confidential, 24-hour phone support available by calling 116 123 or emailing email@example.com. You don’t have to be suicidal to ask The Samaritans for help.
- For information, support and advice about mental health problems and where to get support, visit Mind’s website at www.mind.org.uk or call Mind’s Infoline on 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 6.00pm).
Potential signs someone is suicidal, according to the National Suicide Prevention Alliance (NSPA):
- A change in routine, such as sleeping or eating less than normal
- Lacking energy or appearing particularly tired
- Drinking, smoking or using drugs more than usual
- Finding it hard to cope with everyday things
- Not wanting to do things they usually enjoy
- Becoming withdrawn from friends and family, not wanting to talk
- Appearing more tearful
- Appearing restless, agitated, nervous, irritable
- Putting themselves down in a serious or jokey way, for example ‘Oh, no one loves me’ or ’I’m a waste of space’
- Losing interest in their appearance, not liking or taking care of themselves.
If you feel someone might be in immediate danger, call 999, advises Laura Peters, head of advice and information at Rethink Mental Illness. “Samaritans are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 116 123. It’s also advisable to go and see your GP, they will be able to identify support that’s local to you.”
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org