Our Silent Emergency: a candid look at the crisis of young male suicide
Updated: Jan 29
Last night a documentary was aired on BBC One featuring radio presenter Roman Kemp who publicly displayed his grief and anguish at losing his best friend to suicide last year.
Joe Lyons, who was 31 at the time of his death, worked closely with Roman, their individual careers as producer and presenter paralleling each other and giving rise to a close bond and deep friendship.
It was absolutely heartbreaking to watch Roman trying to come to terms with Joe's death, and the programme focused on what can be done to prevent suicide in young males.
Like the millions of other people who have lost loved ones to suicide it's the residual questions of 'what if?' and 'why not?' that leave those left behind in such pain and confusion. The main question for Roman being 'why aren't young suicidal men talking to their friends'.
The last photo of Joe that was taken on Clapham Common in the summer of last year shows a happy, carefree young man smiling at the camera and having a good time with friends, yet as Roman identifies there must have been troubles in Joe's mind that he wasn't openly expressing.
It's so hard to understand why someone would take their own life, and each person's circumstances are so individual that it's difficult (and wrong really) to guess, but having lost a friend to suicide who I was in contact with right up until the day of his death, I feel as though I have some sort of insight into what happens.
My friend and namesake Tom (also a professional rider) who was 33 at the time of his death in 2017, was suffering from terrible depression, and even though he knew that I was also in suicidal crisis and that I understood exactly what he was feeling, he still couldn't be persuaded to stay.
I find it almost impossible to talk about even now nearly four years later because not being able to save him has affected me in such a profound way.
The timing of the whole thing was indescribably bad with me having ketamine infusions for treatment resistant depression which landed me in hospital at exactly the same time as Tom's crisis, meaning I couldn't get down to Wiltshire to support him. I'm so angry that our crises occurred at exactly the same time which meant that we couldn't do anything to help each other and I'm left questioning continuously 'why am I still here and Tom is not?' and 'if I'd been able to get to Tom could I have saved him?'
I don't want to divulge everything that we said to each other on the phone in the run up to his death because it's too personal, but the one thing that has stuck with me since and will forever, was the comment Tom made about his career and personal life.
When I said, 'Tom you must stop working and give yourself time to get better' his reply was 'but if I do that I'll lose everything' to which I said 'well maybe some things, but you won't lose your LIFE!' A few days later Tom was gone forever - how I wish I'd been able to claw him back and save him.
I understand why (men particularly) can't stop everything in order to get better. The thought of losing everything that you've worked so hard for is unbearable, and I am only still alive today because I was prepared to lose everything including career, relationships and even independence, and move back in with my parents PLUS accept this low functioning lesser version of myself - but why should people have to do this just to survive? It's such a difficult problem.
Although depression is very often (not always) the reason that a person feels that they have no way out, mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety were not mentioned until at least halfway through the programme. I would have loved to hear more about what can be done for those suffering from mental health conditions like depression but we did however hear about Roman's own experience.
He openly discussed the fact that he is on antidepressants which he said he was first prescribed at the age of 15. He mentioned finding the antidepressant sertraline really helpful which is obviously great, but I have been on that drug and like millions of others it was completely ineffective, giving me side effects of panic and fear which only exacerbated my problems.
ALL the friends that I have lost to suicide were on antidepressants plus seeing a doctor in the run up to their deaths, so the whole question of 'why aren't they talking or seeking help', doesn't really account for why we are losing so many of them.
When Roman was explaining his own lived experience he mentioned a time where he 'broke down' at home and fell to his knees before calling his mother who raced over to help him. What wasn't made clear was whether he was on antidepressant medication at the time or not, but the good thing to come from that particular part of the story was that firstly he did reach out for help, and secondly his mother did absolutely the right things to support him.
The close relationship with a parent, especially a mother can really be the difference between life and death, but it is also very difficult for a parent to hear that their son or daughter is thinking of taking their own life.
The part of the documentary that I found most upsetting was where Roman interviews Joe Lyon's mother who explains her 'creeping panic' at thoughts about never ever being able to hold her son again. The interview was so utterly heart wrenching and it highlights the ripple effect that is created when someone takes their own life.
Joe's Mum also highlights several very important points and gives us advice when it comes to supporting those in crisis like 'tell them they are loved, and ask them to please stay'. This is so important and the times where my younger sister would periodically come into my room and simply say 'Darls, you know I love you don't you?' just gave me that bit of loving support to persuade me to hold on.
The suicidal person needs to hear that they are loved OVER and OVER because when you are depressed and suicidal the illness makes you feel incapable of experiencing any emotion relating to caring or loving and that makes you begin to have thoughts about not being needed, specifically that your family would be better off without you.
Talking openly to family is difficult however, because I personally, never wanted to burden my parents with my suicidal thoughts for fear of upsetting them. But I knew that if I didn't admit it to them then I was even more likely to act.
I told Mum exactly what I was feeling but as she has told me since, she was in constant fear of finding me hanging from a beam in my bedroom. I hate the fact that my illness has caused her so much worry but I'm sure Mum would rather have gone through the stress than have lost me to suicide, so speaking out, especially to a parent is of paramount importance for the sufferer.
I worry so desperately for people (especially in the pandemic) who don't have close friends or family that they can talk to. The loneliness and isolation can play a huge part in propelling them into depression and it leaves them so utterly vulnerable. In these cases it is imperative that the individual has support from services and charities who have continued to give help and advice throughout lockdown via zoom calls. The problem is that not everyone has access to a device to take part in these things and those people are particularly at risk.
There's so much more to discuss when it comes to suicide and how to help and support people, but opening up discussions and normalising words like 'depression', and 'mental illness' has got to be a good thing.
Thank you to Roman Kemp for sharing your story in an attempt to enlighten and support others, and God bless all those that we have lost to the tragedy of suicide - I for one will never stop in my quest to help prevent more tragedies like those of Joe, Tom and millions of others. It is so important that we speak out, share our knowledge and learn from the messages that these people leave behind.
If you would like to watch the programme 'Our Silent Emergency' then you can find it here.
I have also added a video to the home page in which Roman expresses his grief, but it is particularly distressing, so for those that are vulnerable and directly affected by issues like this, please be warned before watching it because it is devastatingly sad.
If you are reading this and in crisis please, please reach out to a family member or call or text one of the support charities, listed on the home page.
Thanks for reading,
Speak to you soon,