My Celebrity Life

Roman Kemp is the perfect role model for young men opening up about mental health

It’s been one of the worst weeks for mental health discourse in years.

When Meghan Markle showed the courage to tell millions that she felt suicidal in the past, she was targeted by trolls online and faced Piers Morgan’s doubts in the Good Morning Britain studio.

The fallout highlighted a nasty, ignorant side to British public opinion regarding mental health.

For all the thousands of ‘be kind’ hashtags shared on social media after the death of Caroline Flack, it looks like real change in the way mental health is approached in this country is still lacking.

One thing is more clear than ever: many people out there still assume wealth and privilege somehow make people exempt from suffering.

While his life experiences couldn’t be any further removed from Meghan’s, someone else who knows that well is Roman Kemp.

Roman opens up about his own struggles in the new film (Picture: Beretta/Sims/REX)

The presenter has teamed up with the BBC to make a profound new film, Our Silent Emergency, and he’s also experienced people dismissing his mental health issues because of his fame.

‘I had people on Twitter saying, “Why would he know anything about depression. He comes from a great family background, good school, has a great friendship group, great job.” That’s the horrible thing about depression or anxiety or anything like that is that, it doesn’t wear any form of uniform,’ he says.

Everyone should watch Our Silent Emergency. It’s a heartbreaking, insightful and moving look at what’s left behind after suicide.

There are powerful insights from families who have lost loved ones, and encounters with NHS staff fielding emergency calls every day relating to suicide in the film. But the thing that resonated most with me, and I’m sure others of my generation, is Roman himself.

Roman with his dad Martin Kemp (Picture: ITV)

Inspired to make the film following the sudden and unexpected death of his best friend, radio producer Joe Lyons, Roman talks about his own struggles, revealing that he has been on antidepressants since the age of 15 and contemplated taking his own life at his lowest point.

It’s something that’s likely to surprise people. Listening to Roman present his relentlessly chirpy radio show, and seeing him smile his way through a stint in the jungle on I’m A Celebrity back in 2019, many will find it hard to imagine that he could be going through something so tough.

He’s the last kind of character many would expect to be suffering. But that’s precisely the point. As Roman says, mental health does not wear a uniform. That’s why he’s doing such a valuable thing in making this film, and helping young men of my generation tackle their own struggles.

Roman Kemp starred in I’m A Celebrity in 2019 (Picture: ITV/REX)

Roman is my age. I’m not the son of a heartthrob from Spandau Ballet, but we’re both privileged in many ways and a big part of that is down to our gender.

But as Roman stresses in the film, while the NHS staff he meets talk about fielding many crisis calls from women, around three quarters of suicide victims in the UK are male.

Men of mine and Roman’s generation are the most likely to become the next set of statistics. They’re people most likely to be affected by the silent emergency of the film’s title, and still the people least likely to talk about it.

As this last week has shown, there is still stigma and dangerous misunderstanding surrounding mental health. This documentary could not have come at a more important time too, with the pandemic putting more pressure on us all than ever before.

Our Silent Emergency is not a meaningless hashtag or a tokenistic gesture. This is a film that explores the devastating effect on families that suicide has every day. It urges young men to seek help if they need it. It asks young men to check – really check – on their friends. I hope it makes a real difference.

Most men struggle to talk about their own mental health struggles with their closest friends. I know I do. Roman is talking to the entire nation about his, and he should be commended for it.

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

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