We need to talk about men and suicide

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Here's a 'little' fact for you, over 800,000 people die worldwide every year by suicide, and this is only the number of recorded deaths. Considering globally more than two thirds (38 million) of the 56 million annual deaths are not registered, this number is actually much greater. This figure also doesn’t take into account the thousands of others who attempt to take their own lives every year.

Globally the highest cause of death in 15-29 year old's second only to transport accidents is suicide. I don’t know about you but that statistic makes me feel incredibly uneasy. With such technological, medicinal and scientific advances people of my generation should be happy and content with their lives, but some of them clearly aren’t and you have to ask yourself why…

On average in England, one person dies from suicide every hour.

It is worrying that although rates haven’t increased too much since last year, a definite trend is apparent from analysing previous year’s findings. In a 2015 research report on suicides in the UK produced by the Samaritans, the key message and conclusion from the report’s finding stated that suicide prevention should no longer focus solely on individual mental health problems, but the fact that suicide needs to be addressed as a health and gender inequality. Others may argue this is an unfair prioritisation of men over women, yet the statistics speak for themselves. Of the total number of suicides registered in 2014 in the UK (remember the WHO statement – not including attempted suicides) 76% were males and 24% were females – and since the Office for National Statistics began recording suicide data rates have been consistently lower in females than in males.

Put in simpler terms, 19 deaths in every 100,000 are men taking their own lives.

The report attempts to explain why suicide is three times more common in men, and five leading social scientists commissioned by the charity reviewed evidence and theory in a number of disciplines to come up with reasons men are more likely to kill themselves.

According to the report it boils down to two main factors, the results from being poor and disadvantaged and the issue of society expecting men to behave in a certain way, “leading to increased socio-cultural pressures which can contribute to people feeling they wish to die”.

Two key aspects identified in the report which I think are particularly important reasons why men are struggling are ‘masculinities’ and ‘emotional lives and social disconnectedness’.

Masculinity 

It isn’t hard to see that men are brought up to behave in a certain way and the roles, attributes and behaviours that society expects of them can contribute to increased rates in suicide. Due to these unhealthy pre-dispositions many men believe they can tough out illnesses like depression, they see it as weak to admit they are feeling sad, lonely or hurt so they attempt to tackle these negative feelings on their own, or ignore them entirely. But this only makes matters worse, no human being is an island, everyone needs someone to talk to whether it’s a family member, friend, partner or councillor.

There is a harmful ambiguity to being a man in the 21st century which leads to confusion, half of the time you are being told to “man up” or “just get on with it” by others, ridiculed for sharing your feelings and judged by others for being over-sensitive and the other half of the time you are criticized for not being the very thing you’ve just been told not to be… wah?  According to the Samaritans report, men compare themselves against a masculine ‘gold standard’ which prizes power, control and invincibility. When we believe we are not meeting this standard (oh crap), we feel a shame of sense and defeat, and that’s when our mental wellbeing can start to deteriorate. This ‘gold standard’ is often glamourized and worshipped via the media and film industry (think Fifty Shades –Christian Grey) and this doesn’t help matters, kind of like the whole beauty and body image issues women often experience due to unrealistic representations portrayed in film and magazines of what defines a woman as ‘hot’ or ‘beautiful’.

Emotional lives and social disconnectedness

Throughout childhood men are taught to be ‘manly’ and this does not emphasize social and emotional skills. Being heavily influenced by my mother growing up I did not fit this trend, I was more open to talk about my feelings, however socio-economic pressures had turned me into a typical ‘masculine’ man, and I could suddenly understand why some of us experience a ‘big build’ of distress, culminating in crisis. This lack in emotional skills is emphasized by man’s dependence on female partners for emotional support, women help us recognize our own distress, and they provide us with care and encourage us to seek help.

The Samaritans report found a number of contrasts between sexes, firstly men’s peer relationships drop away after the age of 30 whilst most women maintain close same-sex relationships across their lives. Women are also much more open to talking about emotions than men of all ages and social classes. The ‘healthy’ ways men cope are using music or exercise to manage stress or worry rather than ‘talking’, and typically male friendships tend to be based on companionship through doing activities together. This information provides some evidence to why men may find it difficult to ask for help from friends in times of need.

The report also states that men are more likely to use drugs or alcohol in response to distress. This could be a form of escapism or it could be a chance to let it all out in a substance fuelled mess. Because getting hammered and talking about your feelings is better than just talking about your feelings, right? Then you can blame it all on the alcohol… it sounds stupid doesn’t it? But I can guarantee every man has done it.

From all this information what can we gather? It is clear men don’t talk enough about their problems and there is a ton of evidence to support the argument of a correlation between a lack of support or emotional outlet, and the rates of suicide. Not asking for help or talking openly about your issues can lead to a serious strain on your mental well-being, and in the worst case scenario it can culminate in the taking of your own life. If you feel isolated or alone, you are not, there is always someone to talk to and this ridiculous misconception that we as men must always be strong, powerful and in control needs to be destroyed. Don’t be scared to open up to people, the people who care about you, and if that is too difficult counselling can be very beneficial.   

I know times can be hard for us men, many feel hopeless and lost at sea and whether you like it or not some of us are struggling to cope. So we need to start talking about the issues and acting upon them collectively, because if we don’t more lives will be lost and the problem, like the problems you may personally be facing, won’t go away.

 

If you are worried about your mental well-being or want to know more about looking after your mental health, below are some useful links: 
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-to-mental-health
http://www.mindyourhead.org.uk/info/looking-after-my-mental-wellbeing
http://www.nhs.uk/ipgmedia/national/Royal%20College%20of%20Psychiatrists/Assets/MenandDepression.pdf
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/male-depression/art-20046216?pg=1

The full Samaritans report can be found here: 
http://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/files/press/Men%20Suicide%20and%20Society%20Research%20Report%20151112.pdf

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