Exclusive: Roman Kemp on navigating depression and grief: 'I've learned to live with it'

Earlier this year, TV and radio presenter Roman Kemp moved the nation with his heart-wrenching BBC Three documentary Our Silent Emergency following the tragic death of his friend to suicide.

READ: Roman & Martin Kemp get candid about their close bond and shared love of fashion - exclusive

Now, the 29-year-old mental health campaigner is encouraging others to be more vulnerable with their emotions. "We need to be more honest with each other," explained Roman. "I can't count the amount of times I've said I'm fine when I'm actually not."

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Roman is encouraging the nation to give up the 'f' word this Christmas

Roman's plea comes as research suggests the nation admits to being 'fine' 213 million times every day, with the average person saying it four times during every 24-hour period, particularly at Christmas.

In an exclusive chat with HELLO!, Roman gave a personal insight into his relationship with parents Martin and Shirlie Kemp, as well as his own battle with depression and grief, something the star admits he has "learned to live with."

Scroll on to read Roman's open and honest Q&A below…

roman-kemp-walkers-campaign
roman-kemp-walkers-campaign

Roman is inspiring people to be more honest with their feelings this Christmas

 

What made you want to be part of this mental health campaign with Walkers and Comic Relief?

This campaign resonates a lot with me. I think people are starting to learn how important to ask twice how someone is, especially when they say they're fine. We shouldn't just presume that someone is okay. The idea around banning the word 'fine' is great, because what really is 'fine'? It's neither good, nor bad, right? If you really broke it down it's a word that doesn't really have a meaning.

Can you think of a time when you've said 'I'm fine' and not really meant it?

Oh my god. At least once a month. My own depression and mental health is something that I learn to live with. Monthly I feel like I go through a bit of an episode, whether that manifests itself as me not wanting to go to work, or not wanting to speak to people. My depression is very much up and down, but it's something I'm managing. I'm going to therapy today, for instance. I know that I'll leave that room feeling rejuvenated, like I've got a new lease for the next couple of months.

The narrative around men's mental health can be tainted by the macho stereotype that men should 'man up'. What do you think of that term?

"I think it's a good thing that we've got rid of the term 'man up', to be honest. I'd be shocked if I sent my child (if I had one) to school and a teacher said that - it's what teachers used to say to me when I was in school.

"That type of narrative is always going to be around, unfortunately. If someone tells me to 'man up,' I'd much rather provide them with education to recognise why that phrase is damaging, so they hopefully don't do it the next time."

Growing up, did you feel you had a relationship with your parents where they encouraged you to open up?

My relationship with my family is the thing I'm most grateful for in my life. I think the thing that people are most envious of is the relationship I have with my parents. That's something that I would never take for granted. It's something I'm grateful for and say thanks for every single day," said Roman.

The Capital FM host explained how his parents raised him to be honest with his feelings. "My mum was someone who really pushed and pushed and pushed me to talk to her about how I was feeling since I was a young guy."

martin-kemp-with-son-roman-kemp
martin-kemp-with-son-roman-kemp

Roman shares an incredibly close relationship with his parents

 

We're taught so much on how to handle our own mental health, be it journalling, going on walks, or talking to someone - What are your tips or advice for those who don’t know how to react when others open up about their struggles and difficulties?

It's okay to not know how to react. It's okay to admit that," said Roman. "When my friends get upset and talk to me, the main thing I want them to know is one, that I love them, two, that I'm so grateful they've told me, and three, that I'm going to validate their feelings.

"Try your best to understand, and if you can't, tell that person you're sorry they feel that way. Not validating someone's feelings when they're being vulnerable is the worst thing you can do."

After losing his best friend unexpectedly in 2020, Roman spoke of his own grief, explaining that he finds "welcoming sadness a great thing."

roman-kemp-asking-about-london
roman-kemp-asking-about-london

Roman asked Londoners if they would join him in giving up the 'F' word this Christmas

"Welcoming those sad moments and taking them for what they are as opposed to trying to run away from them is so important," he said. "Friends that try to put the mask over what you're feeling might be trying to help, but in my opinion they're not doing the right thing."

"Try and think about why you're feeling a certain way. What's the reason, what's the pattern? Sometimes, understanding your own mind is the most powerful thing of all."

Christmas is a really tough time for people navigating grief. Do you have any advice for people who are dreading this time of year?

"I navigate my own grief through gratitude. That's the way I've always done things, and my mum pushes that so much in me. We have such a tendency as humans, and especially as Brits, to look at what we don't have. I think that blinds us to what we do have. It's something that I'm constantly aware of and constantly thinking about.

"My mum is the person that pushes that in me. When I was going through what I went through, it was so important for me to look around and think about what I have now. I've got friends that love me, I have a family that loves me, and it helps. You realise you're rich in other ways.

roman-kemp-shirlie-kemp
roman-kemp-shirlie-kemp

The star praised his mum Shirlie for pushing him to be honest with his emotions

"I think we need to give ourselves a break. It's okay to enjoy moments, it's okay to feel sad. The most important thing is that you're feeling. Understanding that you have control over your feelings. You are the person in control of them, other people are not."

What are your hopes for the future of men's mental health, does it still have a long way to go?

"I honestly believe that in terms of intervention, by which I mean adult-to-adult, the conversation around mental health is really great. If people continue in this way, continue looking out for each other, understanding that when someone says they're 'fine' they may not actually be fine, checking in on loved ones, we're heading in the right direction."

Roman shared that his hope is for more preventative methods to be implemented in schools to "tackle the problem at the source."

"Sometimes I have to remind other people that this isn't just about men. This is about women as well, and children. Mental health affects everyone. Sometimes people don't realise that we all go through our own forms of depression, we all go through ups and downs, and it's just about understanding that and giving validation to it."

WATCH: Walkers & Comic Relief | It Feels Good To Share

Roman Kemp has teamed up with Walkers and Comic Relief to inspire people to open up and talk more this festive season, challenging the nation to give up the F***(fine) word this Christmas and beyond, to support their mental wellbeing. Visit www.comicrelief.com/walkers for more information.