#Project84: Sparking the Conversation Around Male Suicide

#Project84: Sparking the Conversation Around Male Suicide

On March 26th, 84 men appeared on the roof of the ITV studios in London.

72 figures were positioned on the ITV studios tower and 12 stood on the roof on the This Morning studio. Although the ominous figures were only life-like sculptures, they represented a shocking statistic – that 84 men commit suicide every week in the UK. Every single day, 12 men decide to take their own lives – that’s a life lost every 2 hours.

Suicide may be the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, but it is still an epidemic that remains chronically under-discussed. The organisation behind the powerful new campaign #Project84 is CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably), a mental health charity dedicated to transforming the narrative of male suicide. In collaboration with ITV, daytime staple This Morning became a platform for the project and presenters Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby have dedicated a week to encouraging the conversation around #Project84.

Suicide may be the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, but it is still an epidemic that remains chronically under-discussed

Image: Women & Home

#Project84 is an example of visual art borne from tragedy that can be both intensely personal and socially significant. Each sculpture represents a real-life lost to suicide; the family and friends of the bereaved joined forces with sculptor Mark Jenkins and collaborator Sandra Fernandez to create a powerful tribute to their loved ones using Jenkin’s signature tape casting technique. They have also come forward to tell their stories in a bid to inspire much-needed conversation around male mental health. The installation at the heart of #Project84 has been incredibly effective in conveying the severity of an often invisible issue. It is the physicality of the installation that has made it so jarring as the sculptures look out over the capital and call on every one of us to take a stand against suicide.

The initiative highlights the importance of challenging a culture that prevents men from seeking the help they desperately need. Although mental illness does not discriminate, men are more likely to suffer in silence and turn to substance abuse before emotional support. The old notions of masculinity associates success and strength with remaining emotionally neutral and men are less likely than women to seek out formal support amid a toxic culture where to reach out is to show weakness.

In their bid to normalise asking for help and value the strength in admitting weakness, CALM provides several avenues of support for men and their families, including a helpline and a webchat. #Project84 has also stimulated a public forum for discussion as many men now feel empowered to share their own personal stories following the campaign’s launch last Monday.

The old notions of masculinity associates success and strength with remaining emotionally neutral and men are less likely than women to seek out formal support amid a toxic culture where to reach out is to show weakness.

Naturally, a campaign of this magnitude has produced a mixed response. Despite an overwhelmingly positive reaction, it has been branded ‘insensitive’ and ‘disturbing’ by its critics, a misplaced stunt that could cause distress to the unaware passer-by. However, the discomfort of the installation is necessary. Sometimes, the shock factor is the only way to get the world talking. The hard-hitting campaign has been commended for inspiring hope that out of the tragedy of lost life, something can change.

Image: Evening Standard

Thanks to mainstream media support and the backing of influencers, #Project84 has also reached international audiences. ITV has been a crucial platform to facilitate the conversation around male suicide and the iconic Southbank location of the This Morning

studios contributed to the scale of public support for the project. CALM is certainly not short of high-profile supporters. The Duke of Cambridge recently joined a group of men, including Rio Ferdinand and Loyle Carner, to support CALM’s #BestMan project, a campaign highlighting the importance of male friendship.

The next step for CALM is to seek preventative measures against suicide and they have recently raised the issue on a parliamentary level. Currently, nobody is held accountable for the lack of preventative measures and unsubstantial bereavement support. CALM have joined forces with Matthew Smith, who lost his brother Dan to suicide, to launch a petition calling for a minister in the UK government to accept official responsibility in the fight against suicide. They would represent the thousands of people who feel like they have no other option. Thanks to the success of #Project84, the petition already has 190,000+ supporters and you can add your voice here.

Unfortunately, talking is just the beginning. We must maintain the momentum of #Project84 and address the stigma at the root of male suicide if we wish to change these tragic statistics.

Lucy Milburn

(Image courtesy of Women & Home)