By Ben Akers, filmmaker
Kids are screaming. I’m completely skint and my body is achingly tired, but it’s all worth it. Why? Because I saved a life today.
5 years ago I lost a life. The life of my childhood best friend. Steve and I were like brothers. Born only 4 days apart, the decade from 11-21 were inseparable. There wasn’t one without the other. But all that changed when we got older, got families, moved away. And on the 28th of May 2014 – Steve took his own life. And I was crushed.
A man every 2 hours is taking their own life in the UK. But Steve wasn’t a statistic. He was a father, a son, a brother and friend.
For 20 years I’ve been an advertising creative. I sell things. And more recently I try to get people to think differently about things – call it behaviour change if you like. So after a chat with JC (one of the founders of Movember) who told me that men of my age watch documentaries and sport, I thought What if I created a problem-solving documentary? What if I combined my skills and experience and try to help solve this problem?
So in December 2017 I began a journey. A journey of self recovery but one also trying to help men help themselves. And stop them taking their own lives. I began with a crowdfunder (raising just over £20K in the end) to create a documentary to save men from suicide.
In the 18 months that followed, I travelled up and down the country, interviewed 35 people, got over 50 hours of footage, and in the end crafted a feature length documentary.
The goal was to save one life. And we did that on the night of the premiere. A friend told me that when I asked him to do a video diary of his mental health, it forced him to open up and get help. He had written the letters to his wife and kids. He had made plans to kill himself. But me asking him to talk about his mental health made him stop. Made him reconsider and made him open up.
And that’s been the amazing thing about this project. What I have learnt. I didn’t even know there was a Male Psychology Network. I didn’t know male psychology was different to female psychology. Off course it is. But I had never thought about it. And my interview with John Barry was enlightening. The way that men think. Why psychology is different. Why men might not go to therapy as much as women do.
It was one of the conversations, that got me thinking that this film had to be more than mental health awareness, it had to be mental health action.
So now, after a premiere in March and 24 screenings up and down the country, many at pubs – going to where the men are – I’ve created a very simple idea called Talk Club. Inspired by Andy’s Man Club and the CALM Best Man project – I thought What if we just help men talk to their mates?
What we do is simply ask men to score their feeling out of 10. You can’t have 7 – everyone says 7. Picking 6.9 or 7.1 is a decision, so that’s what we ask men to do, and then ask them to try to explain that number.
So that’s what we are doing. We show the film. Spark conversation and ask them to talk about their mental health, to take their mental fitness more seriously.
We also created a closed talking group on Facebook, which amazingly in 8 weeks has 715 members. And smaller, local face to face talking groups are popping up off that.
So what can you do?
1/ Join the men-only private Talking group https://m.facebook.com/groups/259185324880439
I can’t bring Steve back, but every day I can stop other families, other friends, other men feeling what I have felt, and save the next Steve.
About the author
Next screenings of Steve:
Brighton 23rd of July:
Bristol 15th July:
“Making of Steve”
Insta: @STEVEDOCUMENTARY @Madewithltd @TalkClubUK
Twit: @SteveDoco + @benakers @Madewith_ @TalkClubUK