Male musicians discuss mental health in Man Down film

By Harriet Robinson
Reporter

Published
Image caption,
Gemma Jennison said the pandemic had resulted in many musicians losing their livelihood

A documentary featuring Rag'n'Bone Man and members of Portishead and Idles is encouraging men to discuss their mental health.

Man Down focuses on men working in the music industry and covers topics such as isolation, depression and suicide.

Anthony Mackie, an MC from Bristol who made an attempt to take his own life, said: "Something needs to change".

Gemma Jennison, executive producer of the film and founder of the Man Down Programme, said male musicians in particular were at high risk of experiencing serious mental health issues.

Official government statistics show suicide as the biggest killer of men under 65, with males accounting for three quarters of the suicide deaths in England and Wales.

Ms Jennison and Mr Mackie's friend Martin Walker, a Bristol MC known as Sirplus, took his own life the same week Mr Mackie made his own attempt.

"It really was quite a shock. I knew how he felt but I didn't understand the severity of it at the time," said Mr Mackie.

Image source, Durkle Disco
Image caption,
Martin Walker (central) had a smile that would "light up a room", Anthony Mackie said

The pair were performers in Central Spillz, a collective which at its height was performing at festival stages around the country.

Despite the highs, both artists were struggling; something Mr Mackie has shared in the Man Down film.

"With MCs and rappers there's a lot of bravado and masculinity expected from that.

"Opening up and talking about how you're feeling, it kind of goes against it," he said.

Image caption,
Ms Jennison said a mother whose son took his own life said she had achieved "closure" after watching the film

Ms Jennison said: "The financial precarity of being a musician or in the music industry in general; if those things start to fall apart, people have to find other ways to make money."

There are many factors that have a "cumulative effect as to why men are in the places they are in now", she added.

Ms Jennison, a qualified mental health nurse based in Bristol, launched the Man Down Programme as a response to seeing people she cared about struggling with mental illness and hiding their emotions.

Capturing men's experiences

"I wanted to look at what the trends were and why men were struggling.

"I decided that in order to do that music industries needed to be accountable or have discussions openly about what they did with artists or any of their staff about wellbeing."

She said the film came about as a way of capturing men's experiences for a new training programme.

Image source, Man Down
Image caption,
Rag'n'Bone Man (left) and Adam Devonshire (left) discuss their mental health in the film

The film, directed by London-based filmmaker Jamie Yuan, includes several Bristol artists including Gavin Thorpe, Idles' Adam Devonshire and Portishead's Geoff Barrow.

It also features Rag'n'Bone Man, whose 2017 album Human became the fastest selling album by a male in that decade.

In the documentary he shares his experience of going on tour and said: "A lot of things changed very quickly."

Mr Mackie said: "It sounds easy, just open up, just talk about it and you'll be fine.

"It's not as simple as that, but I can promise anyone that watches the film, once you break that seal, things can change."

Image caption,
Mr Mackie said: "I hope the impact of me sharing my story is that this stigma of not being able to talk just goes"

Mr Mackie and the other Bristol artists featured in the documentary will watch alongside their close friends and family on Thursday as the film, which is dedicated to Sirplus, is screened in their home city at the Cube Cinema.

The documentary will be used as evidence to address the issues it discusses through training and support programmes.

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