Roman Kemp: ‘Are you ok?’ is the most important question you can ask a friend
Roman Kemp’s BBC documentary Our Silent Emergency explores the personal impact of suicide, the rising rates in suicide among young men and why deeper conversations about men’s emotions is so crucial
TW: This article focuses in some depth on the subject of suicide, so please be advised if you think this might be triggering for you.
In August 2020, Joe Lyons, Roman Kemp’s much-loved best friend and work colleague died by suicide. Roman and his tight knit group of mates were totally blindsided by Joe’s sudden and unexpected death, and understandably their devastation at the loss of such a special person remains to this day.
Sharing that they were as close as brothers and had experienced so many special times together, Roman wants to understand how it reached the point where Joe felt that death by suicide was the only option.
In this emotional and important documentary, Roman sets out to addresses personal, academic and grass-roots responses to suicide, in an attempt to discover why so many young men, like Joe, take their lives, and why they might not turn to the people who know and love them the most, when they’re considering suicide.
Travelling across the UK, Roman meets the Police and NHS taskforce set up in Nottinghamshire - a form of emergency service specifically for mental health crises, a young persons’s suppport group in Belfast where the suicide rate among men is twice that of their counterparts in the UK, and Professor Rory O’Connor from the University of Glasgow, a leading expert in suicide prevention.
The statistics and frequency of suicide attempts and completions discussed in the documentary are shocking and underline the need for the word ‘emergency’ in the programme’s title
The breadth of support groups and services working tirelessly to help people who are suicidal is amazing, but the statistics and frequency of suicide attempts and completions discussed in the documentary are shocking and underline the need for the word ‘emergency’ in the programme’s title.
Hope and understanding, comes in conversations with groups of mates, who like Roman, find themselves trying to come to terms with missing a friend and the endless questions around what happened, and why.
Now we have the two ok rule. How are you doing, but how are you doing really - mentally?
Mates Tom, Olly and Lysander meet Roman to discuss the death of their friend Ashley, three years ago. “It’s still hard every day,” Lysander says. “I’m not going to sugar coat it. It can still be difficult but we take every day as it comes.”
Ashley’s death, however, has prompted the three friends to share more about their own feelings. “We would talk before, but it wasn’t as in depth,” Lysander explains. “Now we have the two ok rule. ‘How are you doing, but how are you doing really - mentally? Are things a bit hard, are you down’?”
“I love that,” Roman responds. “The two ok rule. If you don’t mind, I’m going to use that. I wish I’d said to Joe, 'Mate, I know you know this but I’m going to tell you again. I am that person that you can talk to about that stuff…'”
Roman’s ability to be open and share exactly how and what he is feeling sets the tone for the whole documentary, and underlines the need for more men to open up in whatever way they feel comfortable with. He notes that he takes an antidepressant, and has done so since he was 15, and discusses men’s mental health in depth with his parents and other contributors. He wants the conversation to continue and be normalised.
“Asking someone if they’re ok, is a question we ask each other every single day. We glaze over it, that’s the fastest part of the conversation,” Roman concludes. “When really, that’s the most important one. ‘Are you ok?’ is the most important question you can ask a friend.”
Roman Kemp: Our Silent Emergency, on BBC Iplayer now
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