Why do we need to talk about male suicide?

Trigger warning: this articles discusses facts, figures, and information on the topic of suicide.

There are many causes of death that we can’t control, not in the end anyway – cancer, heart attacks, strokes, the list is unfortunately quite full. However, this can lead to the question of why do we need to talk about suicide? I think the answer to this is very straightforward – because a cause of death which is suicide is one hundred percent preventable. Suicide is also more prevalent among the male population, which is why male suicide in particular needs to be discussed, in my opinion. More women attempt to take their own life, but males tend to use different methods, which make them more likely to be completed before anyone can intervene. In this article I will talk about why male suicide in particular needs to be discussed, and what information I think needs to be customary within society to try and prevent suicide from being thought of, attempted, and carried out.

What are the facts?

In the last couple of years especially, the male suicide rates have been prevalent in the media and within society, with many television shows covering stories of male depression and/or suicide. Whether those stories are covered in news bulletins, factual shows, or are written to raise awareness in soap operas and television dramas, they have been dominant within the media landscape. It has been important for this to have occurred because in England and Wales, suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 years. As I am sure many people do, I find this statistic shocking; the most preventable cause of death is the most common within an age range of nearly thirty years within the male population. This, in particular, is why I think male suicide needs to be talked about. It is even more shocking when you hear that 84 men take their own lives every week, which equates to one man every two hours; a statistic that was spoken about a lot last year when the ITV daytime show ‘This Morning’ backed the suicide prevention campaign ‘Project 84’ which was set up by the mental health charity CALM.

Why the focus on males?

Mental health and suicide are extremely important topics to talk about in general, but the focus on males is particularly poignant because of, in my opinion, two things: the higher rate of males taking their own lives, and the stigma that still today surrounds the topic of male mental health. In 2017, it was reported by Samaritans that men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women.
Stereotypically, women are more open to talking than men, especially when it comes to talking about their own feelings. This is of course only a general statement and not the same for everyone, but there are societal and traditional ideals and expectations of being ‘a man’, which has been found to have a negative impact of male mental health because these include expectations of men being the breadwinner of the family, being strong, stoic, dominant, and having control. Therefore, options such as counselling may not always be something that could benefit people who are more reluctant to open up about their thoughts and how they are feeling. In turn, it may be that these more formal methods of help would not benefit every man who wants and needs to talk, and so more informal methods are required. Andy’s Man Club, for example, is a group which meets weekly, in different areas of the country, and provides an environment for men to share their thoughts and feelings. For me, as a female, it is interesting to read in this particular article that even though talking about mental health is quite common now, the tone surrounding it is seen to be largely feminine and middle-class. I can completely understand this; talking does not come easily to everyone, especially when it is talking about your feelings and maybe some of the most personal details about your life, as they have a huge impact on your mental health. Having somewhere to talk is one thing, but it being a place which feels familiar to your own life can also be important; somewhere a person can feel comfortable talking because they feel that the other people who are also attending are similar to them. Also, if in such a group everyone is there for the same purpose, it can make it easier to open up because it can make everyone feel that they will not be judged, just understood.

What can we all do?

The impact of suicide, whether the person is male or female, is huge. Regularly, the loved ones left behind speak about how they had no idea the person was struggling, which makes it even more of a shock. Talking about it and being aware of how depression can’t always be seen within a person is something that I think needs to be more widely spoken about; just because someone seems happy on the outside doesn’t mean that they actually are. Becoming more knowledge about mental health, and particularly depression, can help people spot the signs of someone who may need to talk about how they are feeling, and some workplaces have also started doing Mental Health First Aid courses. From my own experience, becoming a Mental Health First Aider allows people to attend a two-day course which provides information about a range of different mental health issues, such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety, and allows discussions to take place on how to approach fellow people (such as their co-workers) who they think may need to talk. Signs such as withdrawal from social activities, looking different (which may be an indicator of sleep deprivation, lack of appetite etc.) and general changes within themselves can be such an indication.
It is also interesting to read that half of all mental health problems become apparent by the age of 14, so perhaps another way of helping is to help younger people in working out ways to cope with these, rather than to allow them to become a bigger and bigger problem as they get older, which could result in actions that can’t be reversed.

Some positive news is that the male suicide rates in 2017 were at their lowest since 1981, but of course even one person taking their own life is still too high. It was said that the recent focus on preventing suicide in men, and reducing the stigma surrounding male mental health, has been beneficial. However, it is still something that needs to continually be focused on and discussed whether that be in society as a whole, in the media, within workplaces, and/or within families and friendship groups. I think that something that is preventable needs to be concentrated on; I think there are too many things in life that can’t be prevented, and so we as a society need to particularly focus on things that can be, and try to help people who may be struggling with how they feel. I also think that we need to talk about male suicide in particular because many men will still feel unable to talk about their feelings, and so by talking about it more allows it to become more common, which will hopefully eradicate the stigma of talking about mental health in general, and therefore continue to have a positive effect. Ultimately, we need to talk about male suicide because it is something that can be prevented.

Important contacts: Website: https://www.samaritans.org/
Phone: 116 123 (free)
Email: jo@samaritans.org

Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons)

Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach