Roman gave a candid first-hand account of his mental health journey and reflected on the devastating loss of his radio producer best friend, Joe Lyons, to suicide in August last year, an experience that inspired him to pursue his emotional BBC documentary Our Silent Emergency.
The documentary moved millions of viewers to tears across the UK when it aired earlier this year, as it explored the mental health and suicide crisis gripping young men across the UK.
Roman said: ‘I lost my best friend, my brother, my colleague – the happiest person I knew – to suicide and it’s the most horrible thing that I’ve ever been through in my life. The realisation that you will never see your friend ever again and that you never understood the hurt that they had in their life is far worse than having a conversation with your friend and annoying them by repeatedly asking whether or not they are OK.
‘I set out to make the documentary to show that suicide isn’t something that is a problem for men having a “midlife crisis“; unfortunately, it’s getting younger and younger. I wanted to figure out for myself what happened to my friend.
‘Since the age of 15 years old when I was diagnosed with clinical depression, there’s been moments where I’ve been at the lowest possible point. I have the most privileged life you can imagine; I have nothing seemingly wrong with my life, but I still got to a point where my life was not worth living. I felt like I should not be here anymore, and I felt like I wanted everything to stop.
‘Everyone has this idea that celebrities don’t suffer and, if the influential people we see on Instagram are talking about big subjects such as this, it can make a big difference. Anyone with that type of platform, I’d implore them to do the same.’
Roman is now a patron of the mental health charity Joe’s Buddy Line, which was set up in legacy of his friend Joe. The charity aims to provide emotional and mental health support for school children across England and Wales.
He joined a line-up of mental health experts for an open and honest conversation about mental health, including Andy Smith, a professor of sport and physical activity at Edge Hill.
Professor Smith has been at the forefront of ground-breaking research in sport, education, and mental health, including the award-winning mental health programme Tackling the Blues. This programme was delivered in partnership with Edge Hill University, Everton in the Community, and Tate Liverpool, to promote young people’s mental health in education through sports, physical activity, and the arts.
He said: ‘Over half of all symptoms of mental illness, excluding dementia, are first experienced by the age of 14. So, it’s really important that we begin to tackle mental health and mental illness among children and young people in schools, in our communities, universities, and colleges.
‘At a simple level, mental health is everyone’s responsibility and, if we take that responsibility seriously, it will benefit not only ourselves but everyone and, hopefully, we will find ourselves in a much better position than we do now.’
Professor Smith’s expertise has also been central to the work of the Rugby League Cares Offload programme, which resulted in 78% of men reporting feeling more aware of how to look after their health and well-being.
Former Offload participant Kev Smith had battled mental health and depression for a number of years. Joining the Rugby League Cares’ acclaimed men’s mental fitness project allowed him to learn from current and former players the techniques they use to be able to manage his own mental and physical fitness.
Kev said: ‘The hardest part was taking that first step through the door. After that you can take your mask off and be who you really are in front of the people in that room. In there you’re not alone; there are other people there who have been through the same problems. As a man, it’s hard having to explain to people what you’re going through and to admit you have a problem. Thanks to the Offload programme, I’m now 10 years sober and have got a family of my own with my wife and children. I’ve got something to live for.’
Other panellists included Olivia Izzo, an Edge Hill student mentor on the Tackling the Blues programme, who is encouraging children and young people to open up about their mental health through the arts and sport and supporting sportspeople who have battled with their own mental health.
Chairing the event was Mike Salla, director of health and sport at Everton in the Community, the official charity of Everton Football Club. Mike oversees a broad range of mental health-specific projects and is leading on the development of The People’s Place, a purpose-built mental health hub adjacent to Goodison Park.
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