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PREVIEW: Roman Kemp: Our Silent Emergency, BBC One

Roman Kemp: Our Silent Emergency is a deeply personal and candid film following Roman as he explores the mental health and suicide crisis affecting young men in the UK.

In August 2020, Roman’s life changed dramatically with the sudden and unexpected death of his best friend, radio producer Joe Lyons. This timely documentary sees Roman taking a closer look at the urgent issue of young men’s mental health, exploring why increasing numbers are taking their own lives and the reasons why so many of them never ask for help.

Roman travels to Nottinghamshire where the NHS have partnered with the police to blue light around the county, trying to help anyone in the middle of a mental health emergency. Since the start of the pandemic there have been more mental health crisis calls than ever previously recorded. Here Roman sees first-hand the scale of the nation’s mental health problem. Roman finds out that the overwhelming majority of people that take their own lives are men, and they’re getting younger and younger.

Northern Ireland has the highest suicide rates in the UK, and teenagers and people in their early 20s are twice as likely to take their own life as in England. Roman thought that his friendship group was young to be dealing with the loss of a friend but here he meets a group of four 16-year-old boys who tragically lost their 15-year-old best friend in May of last year. Suicide feels close here and the boys describe a sense of paranoia about 'who is going to be next'.

A local group Lighthouse operates in North Belfast to address the high rates of suicide and they have been working with the boys. Roman sits in on one of their sessions and is amazed by how brilliant the lads are at talking about their emotions, they are opening up in a really encouraging way, but the tragedy is that it’s only come after such a terrible loss.

Roman realises that he needs to speak to someone who has actually made an attempt on their own life, without trying to get help, to better understand the stigma around getting help. He heads to Scotland to meet Fergus, a young man who attempted suicide in 2016 when he was just 20 years old. Fergus explains that in the moment before his attempt he felt so ashamed of how he was feeling that he didn’t want to call anyone at all. He describes the moment as just wanting a 'break from my own mind' rather than as a conscious decision to die.

Inspired by Fergus’s candid account of his struggles Roman decides that he should have a frank conversation with his own family about his own mental health. Roman firmly believes that this is something that needs to be destigmatised, and he should lead by example, to stop other people suffering needlessly in silence. Martin, his dad, says that talking about all of this over dinner, as a family, has been 'a form of therapy'.

Roman wants to know what’s being done in schools across the UK to encourage young boys to talk about their feelings.

He heads to the Wilnecote Junior School to sit in on one of their PSHE classes and observes kids as young as 10 being taught how to recognise depression and how to process their emotions. Roman thinks this is a step in the right direction. He thinks this will help the young men of the future be more honest with themselves and others, and to seek help if they are really struggling.

Roman decides to use his considerable social media following to make immediate interventions with groups of friends, by encouraging them to check in on their mates. By explaining a bit about what he’s learned making the film he hopes to kick start conversations which open the door for someone struggling to be honest with the people close to them.

Roman Kemp: Our Silent Emergency airs Tuesday 16th March at 9pm on BBC One.


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