By Grace Marner, British Science Festival

It’s likely that each of us has been affected by suicide at some point in our lives - whether that’s someone we know or feeling that way ourselves.

Three quarters of people in the UK that take their own lives are male. It’s the biggest killer of men under the age of 55.

BBC Horizon recently aired a documentary exploring why male suicide, in particular, is so rife in the UK. The British Science Festival hosted a discussion about the documentary with Horizon’s editor, Steve Crabtree, and presenter, Dr Xand van Tulleken.

Horizon is known for tackling difficult subjects, but this was one that really touched those who tuned in. For those that haven’t seen it yet, it follows three men’s experiences intertwined with Dr Xand’s journey to understand more about male suicide.

Of the three men they interviewed, editor Steve was particularly struck by the story of one of the subjects, Tony. Before watching a clip of the interview, he said:

“I really, really warmed to Tony a lot. He reminded me of me and my cousins and he’s just an ordinary bloke who you would see in a pub probably like many of your brothers, cousins, uncles and sons. I just think his story is remarkable.

“I was just completely hypnotised by listening to him relay his experiences."

Tony’s story began with his friend Dan, a barman at Tony’s local. They became friends over the years and Tony describes him as “the most confident, outgoing funny guy you could ever possibly meet”. He said Dan put on a persona that everything was fine – as many of us do –  but he eventually killed himself.

Losing a loved one to suicide can increase your own risk of doing the same. We were shown a second clip from the documentary where Tony recalls how the aftermath was “hell on earth." He lost his job, home and went bankrupt all while he welcomed his little girl into the world.

After battling with depression for a few months, he tried to hang himself.

He said that during this, he had a “eureka moment” where he made the decision that “this isn’t the way it has to be.”

After the clip, Steve continued:

“In television, we make stories and we try and engage people into a story. The first time I saw [the clip] I just did not that twist coming. I was just like oh my God, this is unbelievable.

“Tony has never spoken to anyone about it and yet his story was just remarkable and I think that’s why for me he’s just like any guy that we’d all know. To have that experience and to wanna share it on TV is really, really special I think."

After the show aired, it received a tremendous amount of praise. It was trending on Twitter and even led to two people who were struggling to come to terms with suicides in their lives, meeting up for coffee.

During the documentary, Dr Xand was also very candid about his experience of suicide. He touched on this during the event. He said:

“I remember in my twenties going what are these people doing? Why would you do that? And not being able to relate to it and then some time in my thirties going...oh, I get it, and then it getting worse from there.

“It was curious, because the team making the film were a combination of people who had contemplated suicide or worse and people who literally couldn’t understand it and that was a great team to go on the journey with.

“I guess one of the things that I was so intrigued about was that sort of, journey from going, you know what, if the plane crashed today that would be okay. That acceptability of death and that possibly being welcome to then talks about how you might do it.

“I feel like in my thirties I suddenly went oh, I have a tonne of stuff that is expected of me now, combined with an increasing inability to live up to those things.

“There are definitely days when you go, I just think it’s not gunna be very much fun managing all this stuff today."

Since making the programme, both Steve and Dr Xand have made a conscious effort to ask their friends if they are okay and if they are contemplating suicide.

The documentary took a year to produce and in practical terms was not an easy task, but it was definitely worth it.

The reception from the audience was incredible. It was a trusting environment where people were standing and revealing their own experiences of suicide. Some audience members praised Steve and Dr Xand for tackling such an important topic and starting to break down those barriers that stop us from being frank with each other.

The resounding message from the event was that it’s okay to not be okay and to reach out for help. And, if you’re not in that position, why not lend your ear to listen?  It’s time to open up the conversation about suicide.

Find out more about the British Science Festival here.