84 men take their lives every week in the UK.
That’s the statistic that the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) want to draw attention to with their new campaign, Project 84.
And to do so, CALM has partnered with artists Mark Jenkins and collaborator Sandra Fernandez to create 84 individual sculptures, each representing a real life lost to suicide.
The sculptures are currently being displayed on top of ITV’s buildings on London’s Southbank.
“We’re aiming to initiate a much-needed conversation around male suicide and a movement towards better suicide prevention and bereavement support, so that we can convince the government to take action and responsibility, where we’ve also got a petition headed up by us and Matthew Smith, who tragically lost his brother Dan to suicide 13 years ago,” CALM CEO Simon Gunning told ShortList.
“We’re acutely aware of the fact that achieving our goal of male suicide prevention requires everybody to take a stand, so we hope that this campaign will make everyone take this issue seriously: our colleagues, our neighbours, our families and our MPs.
“By working with the families and friends of men who have taken their own lives to highlight individual stories, we hope we’ve been able to make the impersonal thoroughly personal for the message to really hit home nationally.”
Suicide is the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK.
“I became involved in Project84 because my older brother Simon took his own life on 21st December 2014, when he was 36 years old,” mental health activist Jonny Sharples tells ShortList.
“Simon was how you often think an older brother would be; he’d take the mick out of you and loved a joke at your expense, but he cares for you as well, he wanted what was best for you and would always be willing to help you out with some advice or a helping hand.
“My main memories of Simon are his smile and his wit – which made it all the more difficult to comprehend how he reached the point where he saw no other option but to take his own life.”
Sharples believes initiatives like Project84 are important because they “help highlight just how widespread an issue male suicide is in this country”.
“When you see the number eighty four written down with no physical context, it can appear quite small,” he says. “But if you see eighty four mannequins on top of a building in the middle of London then you can really visualise just how many people that is.”
And Sharples believes that cultural pressures on men are a major factor in how men deal with their mental health – and with how we think about male suicide as a whole.
“I think sometimes, because there’s a societal expectation that men should be strong and hyper-masculine, there’s a belief that those who reach the point where they take their own lives are weak,” he says.
“These men aren’t weak; they are sons, they are brothers, they are fathers, they are uncles, cousins, nephews – they are wonderful men that, at one point, had a difficult time.”