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The Comedy of Errors

The Island: Trekkah Benjamin on His New Project with Nottingham Community Arts Network Aiming to Support Young Males with Mental Health Issues

23 October 20 words: Meagan Hutchinson

Through his charity organisation C.A.N, artist Trekkah Benjamin has launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund a program that aims to help young men in communicating mental health issues...

Last year, the rate of suicide among men reached its highest level for almost two decades – 4,303 fathers, brothers, uncles, sons and loved ones took their own lives. According to Samaritans, more than one in twenty people attempt suicide at some point in their lives; among those who do take their own lives, men outnumber women almost two to one.

It’s shocking to think that in 2020, when at the tap of a button we are more connected than ever before, people – especially young men – can feel so isolated.

“I know of eight or nine friends or friends of friends that have taken their lives since lockdown,” Ben Trekkah tells me. Ben is a musician and community worker who works with YMCA Digital, to inspire and empower young people through creative arts and digital media. With his new project, The Island, he’s continuing his passion for community work: “We are very aware that mental health impacts everybody, but in this project we want to focus on young males,” Ben explains.

From a young age Ben found himself  “sofa surfing”  and had a difficult time during his GCSEs. Thinking back of earlier years, he admits he was a naughty kid at school. Struggling with his home situation, mental health problems and exams that would determine his future, I can sympathise with the fifteen-year-old Ben being described through the phone. Ultimately, it was music that saved him: instead of being labeled a lost cause and a disruptive child, Ben's school invested time for him to have guitar lessons. “This was when it all fell into place,” reflects Ben. Since first picking up the guitar Ben has gone on to college, completed a BA and MA, and has had opportunities around the world playing music and running independent record label, Phlexx Records. 

Now, Ben is a father and a husband who can reflect on past experiences and learn from them. During lockdown, he began to notice that the people around him were isolating themselves. “It was like they were on their own island”, he says, hence the name for his new project, written in response to his experiences watching a decline in his loved ones mental health.  

To help raise awareness of the issue, Ben has collaborated with Nottingham Community Artist Network (Notts C.A.N). Alongside Raphael Achache, a freelance Illustrator, and electronica artist Fang Jr, they have produced an audio track, illustrated video, booklet, and 2D prints titled The Island.

This is a pilot project from Notts C.A.N, and the money raised from the gofundme page will be invested into helping men aged eighteen to 35, giving them the opportunity to work closely alongside artists, songwriters and illustrators to construct a body of work inspired by their emotions. As Ben puts it, this process will allow the participants to “voice their experiences and problems,” and start conversations with loved ones that otherwise may not have happened. 

As a man, you're kind of embarrassed to speak up

Any donation to their cause is appreciated, and in return doners will receive an illustrative copy of The Island, a free download to the single, a print of the front cover and a letter to explain exactly how your money has helped fund the project. 

This is only the beginning for Nottingham C.A.N. Their manifesto includes community artist based research, training and development, which shall be delivered through community based workshops and events. A spokesperson for Notts C.A.N explains the aims of the project:  “It's a collaborating network of community artists. Its purpose is to train artists to be community artists, to see their value of their work within the community.” Through its innovative ideas to enrich the community, Notts C.A.N. shows enormous potential.

Alongside their collaboration with Ben, they also have a number of exciting ideas for future projects, including creating a promoters hub by reviving a Nottingham music venue,  and creating a collection of poetry anthologies. Titled I Come From,  the first collection will discuss mental health, gender and sexuality, the elderly and generationalism through poetry. Once completed, the anthologies will be taken into schools and youth clubs around the county by local artists, “to break down barriers and stigmas”.

For some people, it's easier to show how they are feeling than to try and explain. But how do you express you are struggling when you don't know how to translate your thoughts into words? This is where Ben’s project, aimed at men who traditionally struggle to talk about their feelings, could be so powerful. Talking to Ben encouraged me, as a young woman, to think about the different ways men and women experience mental health issues. We are often told that this is a man's world, but trying to put myself in men’s shoes, I find it hard to envision the pressure surrounding being “a man”. As Ben points out, they are constantly told to “man up” – but what really determines a man? 

It's hard for children of any gender to juggle fighting a battle with mental health and finding their identity and place in the world. As Ben explains, “as a man you're kind of embarrassed to speak up” dealing with your emotions, being told they're not valid. “That puts so much pressure on you as a guy”, he says. “It’s conflicting and scary”. Projects like The Island serve as a reminder that when it comes to mental health, it’s not about creating battle of the sexes or asking “who’s got it worse?” It’s much more important to just start the conversation.

You can donate to The Island’s gofundme page here. Both the single and illustrative video will go live to the public on Friday 30 October.

Nottingham C.A.N on Instagram

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