Suicide is a concern in Australia, particularly for males. Known to bottle up their emotions, the figures are confronting with an average of six out of every eight suicides in Australia taking the life of a man every single day.
Suicide Row, written and directed by Michael Griffith, is helping to shine a light on the issue, promoting itself as not merely raising suicide awareness, but as a full frontal attack on the situation.
The play follows the story of four men, played by Greg Pandelidis, Alec Gilbert, Nathaniel Karam and Christopher Grant, who find themselves stuck on the way to the afterlife after discovering that each of their suicide attempts has failed.
Stuck and without a word of reply from the gods, as time slows, hindsight drags in a renewed hunger to live. But in order to return home, life seems to expect them to do something first … but first they have to work out what that something is.
When Pandelidis came across the script, he says that as an actor he was instantly attracted to the opportunity to live through the struggles of a particular character, who while fictitious, is likely representative of a lot of men and the battles and challenges that they’re experiencing.
“It was an opportunity to live through the eyes and feelings of this character in perseverance of knowing what it’s like to be in that predicament and to see the struggles that men go through are, even though we are clouded by a [sense of] what men can or can’t feel in the world of human interaction and feelings; men are like everyone else,” Pandelidis told Neos Kosmos.
“They still have and suffer the same struggles, and they still have the same insecurities, they still have the same challenges and obstacles they have to contend with on a daily basis.”
In light of his own character’s struggles, referred to simply as ‘1620’ in the play, the actor highlights the transition that has taken place over the years in society in relation to the role of men, namely as a father figure, which he feels has been reduced.
“You see a lesser involvement, or a lesser need, for the father figure so men are searching for an identity or a reason for existence. Now this may be the sign of the times; however it does appear that it does have an adverse affect to some capacity to family life and other members of the family unit,” he says.
“Now some of the downfalls that men are experiencing at the moment could be from their own doing but I think some of that power has been limited or reduced, when once upon a time the man was the supposed bread [winner] for the family, today he hardly gets a mention as far as what his involvement is.
“Change is normally for the better, I believe that. But in some cases it appears that the role of the father has been minimised in many ways. For instance because of significant and evident and justified child abuse, which in no way is endorsed, obviously it’s not scondoned, there has been a rethink on how children may be disciplined. I remember growing up in a household where if you did something wrong you were sternly dealt with by your father, without the parent fearing you might go to the police for assault,” he shares.
“Also a lot of fathers and men have been working, caught in a trap where they’re obviously trying to do the right thing by their family, getting themselves way in over their head financially. They’re trying to please; they’re trying to do the right thing, not knowing how.
“But the general makeup and the psyche of the man is that the man has always kept a stiff upper lip, he’s always internalised his struggles, he’s strong, he’s silent and he deals with it in his own way. Unfortunately that doesn’t work, especially not in today’s society and not with today’s pressures. If you look at some of the statistics, they’re astounding, the rate of male suicide in comparison to women.”
Indeed the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Census shows that consistently over the past 10 years, the number of suicide deaths was approximately three times higher in males than females, and in 2016, 75.1 per cent of people who died by suicide were male.
While not a mental health care worker, through his insight from Suicide Row and the subsequent research he has undertaken for his role, Pandelidis says he definitely sees an opportunity for a cultural shift.
“At the moment a lot of men fear ridicule, they fear things that might be imposed upon them or in some way be branded as a result of what they’re going through; not being normal, or ‘manly’. So I think once public perception changes, and it is accepting for men to speak freely about their pains and suffering, and for them to seek help, I think that will definitely be a step in the right direction,” he says.
Pandelidis has faced his own challenges in life. Having been passionate about the arts from a young age, it wasn’t until he was in his 30s that he finally felt able to pursue his dream, and says he hasn’t looked back.
“I got into it at a fairly late stage. I was always a bit of a character, but once again due to family pressures – my father at the time didn’t think it was suitable to pursue a career as an actor – I had to find something that was a bit more, as they say in Greek, sovaro (serious). So I did do the right thing, I did pursue something a little more reliable,” he recalls.
He never would have thought that picking up a friend’s monologue and giving it a go himself would lead to a stint in New York with a part scholarship from the Media and Entertainment Arts Alliance, and the development of an impressive CV including Gallipoli (2015), Hunters (2016) and Utopia (2014).
“Acting engages me to the point where I’m in what they call a work-flow state, which means that time is no longer the essence, I’m so engaged in the present moment, that time is insignificant and I just love being free to express myself and to be part of it, and to tell stories, not to judge my character – regardless of who I’m playing – to be their advocate, and to look at the truth from their point of view,” and precisely why he is excited to hit the stage and bring audiences Suicide Row.
“This play is creating awareness and providing an insight to the general public of the bonding of men through story and through connections; through the perseverance as a group for a common cause, or to escape, or to get back to their families.”
If you need immediate assistance, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Men of all ages nationally can also contact MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78 or mensline.org.au
For further information contact beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or beyondblue.org.au or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.
See Greg Pandelidis in action in ‘Suicide Row’ at the MC Showroom (1/48 Clifton St, Prahran, VIC) from 1-12 November. For tickets, visit trybooking.com/book/event?eid=311569