Every week, an average of 84 men in the United Kingdom take their own lives. That's one death by suicide every two hours.
According to the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), a charity dedicated to the prevention of male suicide, suicide is the single biggest killer of men younger than 45 in Britain. Three in four of all suicides are male.
Those walking along London's South Bank on Monday morning could see the usual iconic riverside landmarks, from the Shard to St Paul's Cathedral. One vista, however, looked dramatically different.
Eighty-four life-size sculptures were atop the roofs of the ITV buildings. Each figure represents a real British man, a real life lost to suicide. Intended to be hard-hitting, the campaign drew widespread attention. Passersby gazed upward, taking photographs, shooting video and stopping in their tracks.
“Achieving our goal of male suicide prevention requires everybody to take a stand. CALM has been campaigning and providing support services for 11 years, but, try as we might, it isn’t enough to tackle the enormous problem of male suicide. So with Project 84, we wanted to make the scale of the situation very clear to everyone that sees the sculptures,” said Simon Gunning, chief executive of CALM.
“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,” Gunning added.
In a bid to raise awareness and inspire action, CALM joined forces with American artist Mark Jenkins and his collaborator Sandra Fernandez to create Project 84. Friends and relatives of 84 men lost to suicide, along with the male grooming brand Harry’s, helped with the creation of the sculptures. British television program “This Morning,” which is broadcast on ITV, backed Project 84 on Monday, unveiling the sculptures and talking to families affected by suicide.
Taking to Twitter Monday morning, photographer David Furness wrote: “I noticed some statues on top of the ITV Tower last night, which are in fact there for
#project84 - a suicide prevention campaign. A powerful image.”
Many others praised the powerful new campaign, with author Matt Haig describing the art installation as “a brilliant way to make the invisible, visible.”
“This Morning addressing male suicide in this country makes me hopeful for society, glad it's being brought into the spotlight,” wrote one Twitter user.
“Actually an emotional mess watching @thismorning. I've never had a dad in my life, but if you have yours, or a brother, uncle or close male friend, ask how they are. Let them know they can talk to you. It might just save their life.
#mensmentalhealth #project84,” tweeted blogger Britt Whyatt.
Praise was widespread, but the project did generate some controversy. While some branded the idea “powerful,” others referred to the art installation as “insensitive.”
“Such an important subject on #ThisMorning. However I can’t help but find all those statues on the edge of the building quite insensitive,” one tweet read.
“I think it’s great raising awareness about men’s health but these sculptures on the roofs are disturbing #thismorning” tweeted another.
According to CALM’s 2016 Masculinity Audit, only 55 percent of men who’ve experienced depression will tell anyone about it, compared with 67 percent of women.
Despite the statistics, there is no cabinet minister in the U.K. officially responsible for suicide prevention — something CALM is striving to change through an online petition.
The petition's creator, Matthew Smith, who lost his brother to suicide said: “My brother Dan was my best pal and my idol. He was taken by something silent, something none of his friends or family saw coming. The true horror of what we as his family experienced when he took his own life is something that could be preventable if we all take a stand together. Dan was just one of the 84 men who take their own lives every single week in the UK. The numbers still shock me and yet there’s no minister in the UK government who is officially responsible for suicide prevention and bereavement support.”
Twelve of the figures are installed on the roof of the “This Morning” studio building. The remaining 72 can be found on the roof of the ITV Studios Tower. The statues will be in place all week.