On World Mental Health Day, prime minister Theresa May announced the appointment of the first UK minister for suicide prevention alongside the first-ever Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit in London, which took place earlier this month.
The Campaign Against Living Miserably’s "Project 84" – a collection of 84 sculptures standing on a skyscraper in London, each representing a man who takes his own life every week in the UK – was the catalyst for the announcement.
The campaign put the issue of male suicide firmly on the political agenda when Jeremy Corbyn passionately spoke about it in parliament and urged the government to act. "The ‘Project 84’ campaign highlights the horrifying figure that male suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45," Corbyn said, to an unusually quiet House of Commons.
"Project 84" resulted in CALM, led by Simon Gunning, setting up a petition to put pressure on the government to make a change, with the petition garnering signatures from almost 400,000 people. The voices of the people have been heard and will now continue to be heard by the new UK minister for suicide prevention.
On reflection, we think there are three things we did that made this extraordinary outcome a reality.
Get people talking about something that they may not like talking about
A few years ago, my cousin Andrew took his own life. Those closest to him didn’t see it coming and were left in shock, with the heart-wrenching agony of: "If only we had talked about it." We had to find a way to get people talking about a tragically taboo subject. "Project 84" got people talking about male suicide like never before, with an earned media reach of 2.1 billion, 170 million impressions on Twitter and a 34% increase in responses to CALM’s helpline. By getting the public talking, we ultimately got the politicians talking.
Create something unavoidable
The stigma associated with male suicide is strong, so we had to do something people simply couldn’t ignore. Our first objective was to get noticed and "Project 84" certainly did that. "You can’t put figures standing on the edge of a building, can you?" Well, yes, we bloody well can, because there’s nothing more important than people’s lives and we aren’t talking enough about this silent killer. Eighty-four sculptures standing on the edge of a skyscraper in London became an image that many people will never forget. The figures were handmade using Sellotape and were dressed in clothes that wavered eerily in the wind. It was a punch to the heart that stopped people in their tracks on the streets below and stopped journalists in their tracks in newsrooms around the world.
Get the cause into culture by going beyond advertising
By putting down Maslow’s hammer, we gave ourselves the freedom to go beyond traditional media. "Project 84" was like outdoor advertising, but also nothing like outdoor advertising. As things developed, we opened up the idea and collaborated with others that could help deepen and spread our cause. Mark Jenkins worked with bereaved families and friends to create life-like sculptures and bring to life the story that each figure represented on a bespoke website. Harry’s became our invaluable brand sponsor and supporter. W Communications created a media groundswell. ITV worked with us to put the sculptures on top of their South Bank building, creating the jaw-dropping image from the streets below.
We developed three days of live daytime TV coverage on This Morning, which put the campaign into the cultural conversation. As presenter Holly Willoughby said: "I’ve never seen anything like it in all the years we’ve been here at the tower… to see those statues on the top of the building and everybody stopping and just looking up to take a moment." Together, we stretched our budget beyond the realms of possibility to make saving the lives of men across the UK possible.
The recent government announcement made us lump-in-the-throat proud of the campaign, because of the difference it has made and the lives it will save.
However, we hope it’s just the start, because the issue of male suicide has never been so important and it’s something we need to keep talking about.
Martin Beverley is executive strategy director at Adam & Eve/DDB