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Normal? Festival of the Brain organisers encourage men to think about mental health with suicide documentary screening


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An online science and arts festival is trying to engage men in thinking about their mental wellbeing by screening a documentary about suicide.

Normal? Festival of the Brain, organised by charity Living Words in Folkestone , will be showing Ben Akers' film, Steve: Saving Men From Suicide, online as part of their programming.

Ben Akers released the film Steve: Saving Men From Suicide in 2018
Ben Akers released the film Steve: Saving Men From Suicide in 2018

Mr Akers, from Maidstone , was compelled to make the documentary after the loss of his best friend Steve Yates, who took his own life in May 2014, aged 38.

Susanna Howard from the arts charity said they felt it was important to reach out to men who might not always be comfortable with being open about their feelings.

She said: "There's not a great deal made that is reaching out to straight down the line blokes who are feeling a bit disenfranchised in terms of their identity and their abilities to express themselves."

She also said coronavirus restrictions have meant that typical environments where men might socialise, such as the pub, are now less easy to get together in.

"You haven't got the four people sitting at the bar next to each other, maybe only saying a few words but feeling seen by someone else," she said.

Susanna Howard and Oliver Senton
Susanna Howard and Oliver Senton

The co-curator of the festival was also clear in saying that there are no figures to suggest that the number of people taking their lives had risen during the national lockdown, but that the situation of the ongoing pandemic meant that people need to know they have a place - or a person - to talk to if they are struggling.

Alongside the festival screening, the organisers are hoping to encourage men to join Talk Club, a project set up by Ben Akers following the release of the film in 2018.

There are Talk Clubs all across the county, including Thanet , Dartford , Medway and Tunbridge Wells , and offer a place for men to talk with one another.

Oliver Senton, who co-runs the Folkestone group, said: "The current situation has brought all of these feelings and mental health questions to the fore.

"I have men very close to me in my life who are simply worried all the time, it's seems like there's nothing they can plan, nothing to cling onto.

Talk Clubs across the county hope to offer a place where men can be open with one another. Pic: Still from Steve: Saving Men From Suicide
Talk Clubs across the county hope to offer a place where men can be open with one another. Pic: Still from Steve: Saving Men From Suicide

"Everyone has that, but there's not a lot that's targeted to the average bloke who might not have anywhere just to talk and be heard."

Originally the festival was planned to screen the film in May, but due to the ongoing pandemic the team made the decision to run it online instead.

But Susanna feels that the online screening might convince more men to watch than if it were a physical screening they had to attend, especially if they don't yet feel comfortable with talking about their feelings with others.

She said: "You can click on the film URL and not show yourself and change your name, just dip your toe in."

The festival organiser added: "When the screenings happens in festivals the women and the friends bring their partners along and then leave them for the Q&A, and that's how the Talk Clubs have built up in the past."

The documentary seeks to encourage men to speak about their feelings
The documentary seeks to encourage men to speak about their feelings

The pair hope those who watch the film will be encouraged to join their local Talk Club.

Oliver said: "There's no hierarchy, no judgement, it's not about analysing people's problems.

"It's just about having somewhere you can talk and feel you've been heard."

The Normal? Festival of the Brain began on Saturday, October 10, and will be running events until March 2021.

Susanna co-curated the festival with Diane Dever at Folkestone Fringe and Cheryl Pierce Creative Folkestone.

The festival screening of Steve: Saving Men From Suicide, is on Wednesday, October 21, at 18:30.

A Q&A session will follow the screening, feature Ben Akers and the organisers of Talk Club Folkestone.

Kent County Council’s Release the Pressure Campaign emphasises the importance of reaching out when life gets tough. Trained counsellors are available 24/7 no matter what you are going through – you can either text the word Kent to 85258 or phone 0800 107 0160 for free confidential support at any time.

To attend the screening, click here

To find out more about your nearest Talk Club, click here

Read more: All the latest news from Folkestone

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