Leeds filmmaker shines spotlight on men's mental health in latest documentary

A Leeds filmmaker is hoping to help break the stigma around men's mental health through his latest documentary.
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Jonny White, 26, has created 'The Voices of Men' - filmed in and around Leeds - to shine a spotlight on what he calls the "vicious invisible illness" which claims the lives of thousands of men in the UK each year through suicide.

Statistics show men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women - and the rate is on the rise, with the overall number of people taking their own lives rising by over 10 per cent in 2018.

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In his film, Jonny features the emotional stories of anonymous men who share their personal experiences - battling mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder - as footage plays of silent scenes in Leeds.

A still from Jonny White's film The Voices of Men.A still from Jonny White's film The Voices of Men.
A still from Jonny White's film The Voices of Men.

It begins with a raw and honest account of one man, who recalls: "At one point, I sort of found myself on a seventh storey thinking 'Yeah I can make that if I jumped...'.

Jonny said he put out a plea on online platforms such as Facebook, Reddit and Instagram for men's experiences and was "overwhelmed" with response.

"I didn't want to put any pressure on to anyone. I promised their anonymity, so this film would give them a safe platform to express what they want as deeply and as comfortably as they felt.

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"I was overwhelmed with the responses I received, and it was really encouraging to see so many men want to get involved and feel as strongly about this subject as myself.

Leeds film-maker Jonny White.Leeds film-maker Jonny White.
Leeds film-maker Jonny White.

"The primary focus of this film is the words that the men are speaking.

"I went around Leeds with my housemate to film minimalistic images that support and best represent the words that the men are speaking.

"I made the creative decision to not physically show the men talking in the film, which I did to emphasise the idea that anyone can suffer with this." he said.

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Jonny, who previously in the Yorkshire Evening Post in May when he made a film to document the "ghost town" reality of life in locked down Leeds during theCovid-19 pandemic, wants his latest film to reach as many people as possible and hopes it will resonate with men and help "normalise" the issue.

He said: "It's not often you truly see men talking about their feelings in this way. You don't see many blokes opening up to their mates. It's a fundamental societal issue that stems from the very foundations of early childhood and education. Young boys in schools and playgrounds are ridiculed for crying and told to 'man up', 'grow up'.

"Men are collectively taught to show no weakness and to suppress our feelings, which comes from the very archaic notion of a patriarchal society. Men cannot express their emotions, because they feel that they will be ridiculed."

He added: "I made this film to try and continue those difficult conversations and encourage men that may be suffering, that it's completely ok to feel like they need help. It's a difficult watch, but a necessary watch if we are to address the clear issues.

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"Regardless of your gender, mental health is an incredibly important thing to address, it's a vicious invisible illness, however I wanted to spotlight men's mental health in particular for all the reasons I've stated."

Jonny, who is originally from Guisborough, North Yorkshire, studied film and TV production at York St John University before moving to Leeds last year, where he works as a digital content officer for the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Chapeltown.

In 2016, his short horror documentary focusing on sleep paralysis, Trapped in Terror, won a Royal Television Society Student Award.

In his spare time, he continues to make short films while he works toward his long-term goal of becoming a feature-length film director.

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Search 'The Voices of Men Men's Mental Health Documentary' on YouTube or click here.

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Laura Collins