‘Hey man, you’re not being yourself, let’s talk about it.’ Roman Kemp on how we can open the conversation when it comes to men's mental health

From therapy to better public health messaging, radio presenter Roman Kemp is breaking down mental health stigmas one conversation at a time. Marc Donovan, chief pharmacist at Boots, sat down with him to find out more. 

Please be aware that this article includes open and honest discussions around suicide and suicide attempts, which some readers may find upsetting. If you are affected by the content of this article and would like further information on available support, please see the list of resources at the end.  

Roman Kemp is on a mission. 

The 29-year-old radio host and TV personality has everything going for him. An illustrious career, a close-knit family and a great group of mates. So it may surprise you that he has dealt with crippling feelings of hopelessness. Feelings so overwhelming that, in his darkest moments, he contemplated jumping in front of a train.

Alarmingly, Roman’s just one of many young men who have found themselves battling with their own emotions, with suicide being the leading cause of death for men under 50[1]. In the summer of 2020, his life as he knew it was dramatically altered. The suicide of his best friend, radio producer Joe Lyons, was met with shock and confusion. Desperately seeking answers in the devastating aftermath of losing someone so close to him, Roman’s hard-hitting documentary, Roman Kemp: Our Silent Emergency, was created. The overall aim? Shedding some much needed light on the mental health and suicide crisis affecting young men in the UK.

In this deeply personal portrayal of mental health, viewers of the documentary would follow Roman as he investigated the reasons why an increasing number of young men are dying by suicide, alongside his quest to best understand his own personal mental health struggles. 

The ultimate question? Why is it that so many of these young men never ask for help? 

Since making the documentary, Roman has been working out how he himself can add to the dialogue that will help people who are struggling in silence. With an estimated 1.6 million people on the waiting list for mental health support on the NHS[2], and access to new mental health services* now available through the Boots Health Hub, it seemed like the perfect time to sit down with him and chat through his ultimate takeaways on dealing with anxiety and depression; from how we can help a friend, to harnessing our own emotional wellbeing.

By speaking out, it’s allowed me to breathe more and have that space – it’s amazing

Roman on… Being a public mental health advocate 

Roman is the first to admit he has everything going for him on paper, and in 2019, his life felt like it was going particularly well. But mental illness doesn’t discriminate.

‘I remember sitting on the floor in my pants, just crying. I was in a really bad way. And I understand that this is a really triggering topic for some people, but the honest answer is that a lot of men struggle. It took a serious turn for me and I did experience suicidal thoughts quite heavily.’  

However, it was only after losing Joe that Roman felt it was time to open up and be honest about the extent of his own struggles. 

‘I had to ask the question, “Can people look at me the same if I say that sometimes I get really sad?” And I had to make a decision. By speaking out, it’s allowed me to breathe more and have that space – it’s amazing. I think that’s why I felt it was so important to do it on a big scale.’

Knowing you can get that help from your phone or a laptop is so important

Roman on… Therapy 

It’s a fact that men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women. Only 36% of referrals to NHS talking therapies are for men[3], but the reality is that therapy is often a great way to tap into some emotional care when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed or low. It’s not about lying back in a chair and sitting through an awkward conversation. And Roman agrees. 

‘I think people have this thing about therapy. A defence thing,’ he says. ‘It’s not that they don’t want to open up – they feel like, “I don’t want someone to tell me how to feel.” When realistically, if you’ve ever done a therapy session, it doesn’t go like that at all. You sit there and this person just listens to you. It’s a phenomenal thing that I would hope everyone tries at some point in their lives. I don’t think it does any harm. It allows you to voice things that you maybe wouldn’t normally say.’

And if you don’t fancy seeing a therapist face to face? 

‘I accessed my therapist online during the pandemic,’ Roman explains. ‘Honestly, in some ways, and for people who are new to it, the comfort of being in your own home is a lot easier. Slowly but surely, you’ll start to develop a relationship with that person. Knowing you can access help from your phone or a laptop is so important.’

Why should I be ashamed of something that helps me? This is something that makes me stronger

Roman on… Medication

Roman was initially prescribed medication at the age of 15 and he continues to take it to this day, praising it as being a vital component in his mental health tool-kit.

‘When I did my documentary a lot of people said, “Oh my God, I can’t believe you took an antidepressant on TV,”’ said Roman. ‘I was asking “Why?” Millions of people do it every day. It’s a normal thing, and it just helps me. Why should I be ashamed of something that helps me?’

Ultimately, despite efforts being made to change the dialogue around mental health and medication, those affected are still dealing with the stigma and fear of what others might think. So, if you’re struggling, how could you explain taking medication to those you love? 

‘The only way I’ve ever been able to explain it to my friends is by comparing it to what they do to feel well,’ says Roman. ‘A lot of them go to the gym and they’ll supplement with protein. I want my brain to be the best that it can be, so I supplement it with things like therapy or being able to take my tablets.’

It’s about changing that and understanding that this thing that’s happening in someone’s brain can have just as much, if not more, of an effect on them

Roman on… Breaking-down stigma in the workplace

‘It’s something that’s really tough,’ says Roman. ‘Especially in taking mental health leave. If someone walks in and they’ve got a busted leg, your boss would probably say to you, “Hey, take as much time off as you need!” Unfortunately, when you go in and say, “I’m just not feeling right,” some people may perceive it in a different way. And it’s about changing that and understanding that this thing that’s happening in someone's brain can have just as much, if not more of an effect on them.’

But just by talking about it openly, we’re changing the narrative.

It’s one thing looking at mental health and saying, “I don’t get it, that’s your thing,” and another thing to want to learn. To at least be able to listen is so important

Roman on… Mental health across generations

‘My dad came from a household where mental health wasn’t spoken about,’ explains Roman. ‘Being able to talk to him was quite difficult in the beginning, but he’s now someone who’s very on top of how I’m feeling. And that’s just because I was honest and open with him. He won’t necessarily understand it himself, but he’s trying to help. And that’s something that a lot of people can do. It’s one thing looking at mental health and saying, “I don’t get it, that’s your thing,” and another thing to want to learn. To at least be able to listen is so important.’ 

To hear more from Roman and his dad, Martin, about the tools that have helped them, listen to the Boots Taboo Talk podcast on the unspoken truth about mental health. Have a watch of the episode’s best bits below.

They just asked each other, “Are you ok?” twice. And that simple thing seemed to break through

Roman on… Checking in on loved ones 

So, you’ve got someone you’re concerned about and aren’t sure how to make that initial approach? Roman has some suggestions. 

‘When I was making my documentary something happened that I’ll never forget,’ explains Roman. ‘There were these guys and they just asked each other, “Are you ok?” twice. And that simple little thing seemed to break through. When we’re asked how we are we say, “Yeah good,” and move on. The idea here is asking how someone is at the beginning of the conversation then checking in again at the end, and asking one more time.’

A simple way of posing the question?

‘“Look, I understand that we glazed over it, but genuinely are you ok?” Roman suggests. ‘And by that point, especially with guys, you’re comfortable in a conversation and it really helps break down barriers. It’s as simple as asking twice.’

A growing need for support

While it’s a fact that three times as many men as women die by suicide[3], it’s not just them who are affected by mental health struggles – it’s all of us. Figures have risen in the past few years, with the number of adults experiencing depression and anxiety still up on pre-pandemic levels[4].

According to Marc Donovan, chief pharmacist at Boots, ‘Since the start of the pandemic, our pharmacists noticed an increase in requests from patients for mental health services.’ And it’s not hard to imagine why. Lack of personal contact with loved ones, financial strain and worries about getting or spreading coronavirus have all taken their toll on our emotional wellbeing. In recognition of this, Boots is doing what it can to help.

How Boots is helping

‘Mental health is an important part of our wellbeing, and our pharmacists are always on hand to provide advice and support as a first port of call for people,’ says Marc. 

But what if you feel like you need some extra, more specific support? Boots have your back here too, thanks to the latest range of on-demand mental health services available on their website. 

With our lives becoming ever busier, digital, on-demand healthcare services have grown in popularity among patients. In a recent study commissioned by Boots, nine in 10 people who used digital healthcare services during the pandemic said that they’ll continue to use them thanks to the convenience they offer.

‘The services you can now find online via Boots offer a range of support options including talking therapy and access to prescription medicine for those who need it and if appropriate,’ says Marc. ‘When it comes to mental health, it’s important that patients can access the support that suit them. Mental health issues like depression and anxiety affect people differently and there is not a one-size-fits-all approach.’ 

What do these on-demand services offer?

These on-demand services offer people a range of tools and treatments they can access quickly and conveniently in the comfort of their own home.

SupportRoom from Boots Health Hub

Psychological and emotional therapy available for when you need it, from wherever you are? Count us in. SupportRoom matches you with a therapist offering psychological and emotional support via ‘text talk’ and video check-ins and offers holistic health insights and self-help tools. You’ll have access to a trial period, during which, you’ll be able to swap therapists in order to find the best match for you. There’s also valuable mental health resources such as podcasts and guided meditations  – which sounds pretty great to us. SupportRoom standard packages start at £40 per month.

Boots Online Doctor Depression & Anxiety Treatment 

Interested in the Boots Online Doctor Depression & Anxiety Treatment? It’s really straightforward. You’ll work together with a friendly  mental health clinician to put a treatment plan in place whether it’s signposting to counselling, talking therapies and/or medication. And once the treatment has been recommended, the clinician will check in regularly to see how things are going. This costs £65 for the initial consultation and, if needed, the first month’s medication. After the first month, patients enrol into a membership service, costing £65 per month*.

The upshot 

Mental health is a topic each of us grapples with at different points in our lives. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, so how we manage it is up to us. And the NHS is always there to support and offer expert advice and assessment in a mental health emergency. You can also call 111 or ask for an emergency GP appointment if you’re not sure what to do. The upshot here? You’re not alone. 

‘It’s about how you educate yourself, how you deal with the tough moments, and what are the tools you can call upon that you’ve used before to help you. I’ve learned over the years how to deal with it,’ says Roman.

And so can you. 

For access to additional mental health advice and support visit our mental health support hub.

If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis or are at risk of harming yourself or others, please call 111, speak to your GP or the Samaritans on 116 123, or text Shout on 85258.