There might be a tendency towards opening up about mental illness but when it comes to the severity of male depression and suicide, society is still painfully quiet. Last month, the Movember Foundation released a video for Suicide Prevention Day speaking up for men all over the world. The campaign video called ‘Suicide Notes Talk Too Late’ shows suicidal men who were saved, reading their last letters aloud. They are the lucky ones – but every year, thousands of men don’t find ways to cope with their mental difficulties and we are guilty. The society we live in still tells boys to ‘man up’, that ‘boys don’t cry’, setting the harmful tone throughout their upbringing.
“Every minute, a man dies from suicide” – informs us the Movember Foundation’s website. Three out of four suicides are men. Even though women attempt suicide more often than men, it doesn’t necessarily mean women are more depressed or suicidal. When men reach the breaking point, their determination is strong, they want to ensure ‘success’ or fatality, while women have a tendency to choose a nonviolent method or give themselves some leeway – a family member finding them soon after their attempt, for example.Suicide is the biggest killer in the UK’s male population under the age of 45. Every year, over 6000 people take their own lives out of which almost 75% is male. In their latest research, UK charity Samaritans compared the suicide rate of men in different age groups, and they found that in mid-years there’s been an increase. However, in younger men it has reduced in the last eight years. It is still worrying – between the age of 5 and 49, suicide is the leading cause of death in men, while for women it only takes the first place in the age group of 20-34.
Why do middle aged men take their lives more often than anyone else?
(Attempting) suicide is not just a question of mental health. It is – especially depression – an underlying factor in most cases, but there are other factors contributing to the phenomenon. Most importantly, socio-economic conditions: members of the lowest social class, living in the most deprived areas are ten times more at risk of suicide than men in the highest social class – found the Samaritans. Socio-economic factors is one of the six key aspects they identified behind suicide based on their research.
Personality traits such as perfectionism and self-criticism also contribute to the risk of suicide, and if they interact with (social) deprivation, job loss or relationship breakdown, the risks are even higher. Separation or divorce seem to increase suicidal thoughts in men more often than women – men rely more on their partner for emotional support. Men are facing new challenges in mid-life that are difficult to cope with. Men in their thirties and forties are part of a ‘buffer’ generation, stuck between traditional, strong fathers and individualistic, progressive sons. Emotional illiteracy is also a problem, men are still reluctant to talk about feelings and if they ask for help, it’s usually at the point of crisis. No matter how progressive we like to think society is, the idea of masculinity still covers strength, power and control – and when these expectations are not met, the risk of suicide escalates .
How can we help?
Opening up about mental illness for the first time is never easy. It doesn’t even have to classify as an illness, struggles are hard enough to admit to on their own. And it’s not gender-specific. No one likes feeling vulnerable – especially not in front of others. If you felt worthless and a burden to your friends and family, would you reach out for help? Would you tell anyone about these intense feelings when you are already doubting yourself? If you’re a man who grew up in the midst of conventional, hardwired ideas of masculinity – would you find it easy to ask for help?
Earlier this year, The Telegraph created a list of suggestions, small things we could do to help prevent male suicide. We need to reclaim masculinity and stop blaming men for not reaching out. We need to start talking about men’s issues and educate everyone about suicide. We also need to learn how to listen and how to create spaces where men feel comfortable to talk about their struggles. The Samaritan’s recommendations and the Movember Campaign resemble these ideas – the base is there, so all what’s left to do is start taking action!