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Project 84: taking a stand against male suicide

4 Jun 2018

Did you know that 84 men take their own life in the UK every week? That’s a staggering one every two hours. By the time you’ve left work for the day, it’s likely that five men would have killed themselves in the UK since you took the last bite of your breakfast. Those statistics are shocking. Yet the stories behind the 84 men per week who leave loved ones behind go largely unseen.

The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is a charity close to the heart of Octopus Giving. We’ve been supporting them – both in terms of donations and volunteering hours – since 2015. CALM is leading a campaign to reduce the number of suicides in men, and on 26 March, delivered a harrowing but powerful reminder of the male suicide rate in the UK.

The charity partnered with American street artist, Mark Jenkins, and his collaborator Sandra Fernandez, to create 84 life-size sculptures. Each represented a real man who took his own life. Jenkins, who is widely known for placing his hyper-realistic sculptures in public settings, created the figures from packing tape, with help from family and friends of the deceased.

CALM Project 84 - making the sculptures

The campaign, named Project 84, was sponsored by male grooming brand Harry’s – one of a growing number of brands that are asking consumers what it means to be a man today.

“As a society we have to move past embarrassment and awkwardness, we have to face this awful issue, discuss it and actively work to stop it.” Simon Gunning, CEO of CALM

CALM Project 84 - making the super-real sculptures

We find ourselves in a world where men are dying from suicide on a daily basis. Yet there is still a huge stigma attached to mental health struggles in men, with it being a taboo subject and seldom talked about.

So, why is there such a stigma attached to mental health struggles in men? It affects one in four of us, with depression being the most common condition – often an invisible illness.

Men will be no strangers to society expecting them to behave in a certain way from an early age, with the notion that they should be strong, manly and masculine heroes having been drilled into them since they were young boys. Gender stereotyping isn’t exclusive to women.

Many people believe that being sensitive and getting upset is a feminine trait, and that women can cry and talk about their feelings – but chaps can’t.

“James Bond doesn’t cry!”, barked director Peter Hunt at one-time Bond George Lazenby in 1969, when the Australian induced tears during the scene where 007’s newlywed wife is murdered in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The scene was reshot.

Fast forward 43 years later and we did see James Bond cry – this time played in the guise of Daniel Craig – at the death of Dame Judi Dench’s M in Skyfall. Maybe a sign of how outdated the stereotyping that men shouldn’t get upset is, and the steps society has taken to banish it.

“Underpinning this campaign is hope, hope that by telling these stories we can all better understand the complexities of suicide and strive for change.”
Simon Gunning, CEO of CALM

“Man up”, “get a grip”, “grow a pair”, “pull your socks up”, “cheer up” – often unhelpful demands aimed at men suffering from depression and/or anxiety. If it were that easy, life for sufferers would be a lot simpler.

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. Those who are fortunate enough to have never experienced mental health problems may be only a relationship breakup, job loss, illness or bereavement away from the tables turning.

Project 84 managed to stop people in their tracks and get them talking. Let’s keep talking about mental health and male suicide: it’s OK to not be OK.

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CALM Project 84 - The sculptures in place

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