Twenty four per cent of deaths among men aged 20-34in the UK are suicides. That’s one in every four.
Statistically, that means you are very likely to know a man who will kill himself during your lifetime, since suicide is now the biggest killer of men under the age of 55. Something has clearly gone horrifically wrong.
In a bid to change this terrifying trend, the Self-Esteem Team, who are a trio of women working with young people in schools and colleges to improve their mental health and wellbeing, are devoting their Mental Health Week campaign to encouraging men to talk about their feelings. They hope their viral campaign, entitled ‘Switch on the Light’, will start a conversation amongst British men in homes, schools, pubs, sports clubs and online.
“There is still a stigma around men admitting vulnerability,” said founder of the Self-Esteem Team and regular Telegraph Men contributor Natasha Devon. “We have seen it in the course of our work with teenagers. All the research into young people and self-esteem focusses on girls because girls are more likely to avoid participating in activities because of low self-worth or mental health issues. Yet, if you think about it, that must mean that a lot of young men are just soldiering on regardless and swallowing their feelings and that comes with its own unique set of challenges, as evidenced by the number of men in the UK who reach the stage where they take their own life.”
She continues: “We felt that if we could inspire men to open up and discuss their worries we could help to create a culture where it’s OK for men to ask for the help they need.”
To kickstart the initiative, the Self-Esteem Team have enlisted the help of seven high-profile men to create a chilling YouTube video. The film, which you can watch above, features national treasure Stephen Fry, rapper Professor Green, footballer Clark Carlisle, TV presenter Ortis Deley, Youtuber Charlie McDonnell, lead singer of indie band Deaf Havana, James Veck-Gilodi and comedian/legendary X-Factor warm-up Ian Royce.
Each of the men were asked to record a ten-second video in which they confessed a real worry they struggle with, to camera. Natasha and her Self-Esteem Team colleagues, Nadia Mendoza and Grace Barrett, recorded a replica of each voice. The confessions begin in one of their, female voices, then switch to the male voice of the speaker. We are given a glimpse of the speaker, before their faces are finally revealed. At the end of the video a tagline reads: “Emotions have no gender”.
The comments in the video will strike a chord with men everywhere. “Will today be another day when I say ‘fine’ when someone asks me how I am?” “I worry about being a good partner. Am I doing enough, earning enough…” “My main fear has always been my mental state coming between me and a loved one, that they may not understand I cannot control when a moment of panic arrives.”
In the clip, Stephen Fry said: “I have been blessed with so much in life. I have been given luck, love and prosperity, but I’ve never felt that I’ve deserved those things. I fear every night that they’re going to be taken away from me.”
“We didn’t tell any of our contributors what to say,” says Natasha. “We simply asked them to tell us a worry. The topics they chose to speak about are quite diverse, but I believe a great deal of men will relate to them. The idea behind starting each confession in a female voice was to demonstrate how we are often more comfortable hearing the language of emotion spoken by women – but all of the words came directly from the men involved.”
The video is dedicated to James Mabbett, a close friend of showbiz editor Nadia Mendoza, whose life was lost to suicide earlier this year. He was aged just 25 when he died.
There are a number of subtle things to look out for in the film – the whispers are actually musician Grace Barrett whispering a Final Demand on an electricity bill, which was then reversed. That idea came from Grace asking a male friend what was on his mind and him handing her the bill and saying “Here! That’s what worries me!”
The ‘Switch on the Light’ campaign will continue throughout the week, with the Self-Esteem Team visiting sports clubs, army barracks and fire stations to asking men to participate by discussing their emotions. They’ll also be inviting men to contribute on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #SwitchonTheLight.
You can follow the Self-Esteem Team on Facebook or Twitter ( @SelfEsteemTeam ) to share your thoughts.