The World Health Organisation estimates that over 800,000 people take their own life each year – that’s one person every 40 seconds and that doesn’t include the many more that make an attempt at taking their own life.
World Suicide Prevention Day is on 10th September. The International Association for Suicide Prevention asks us to light a candle by a window at 8pm to show our support, remember a lost loved one and for the survivors of suicide.
Men and Suicide
It has been widely reported that suicide is now the biggest killer of men under the age of 50 in the UK. Suicide accounts for 1 in 4 deaths in men under the age of 45. Men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women.
We asked Consultant Psychologist, Marie-Clare Mendham why the figures for men are so high, she told us:
We are all aware of some of the stereotypical gender associations that have relevance, such as:
- Boys don’t cry
- ‘Man up’
- ‘Get a grip’
- Be psychically strong
- ‘Get on with it’
- ‘Stop being a girl’
- Don’t show your emotions
Women tend to have a support network with friends and are more inclined to seek help and visit the GP. Part of this is due to women requiring check-ups for physical health such as smear tests etc and therefore don’t have such a barrier to seeking help and visiting a medical professional.
Environmental and Economic Changes
There have been environmental and economic changes which may have impacted more on men. Some of the impacts that have potentially impacted suicide rates in men include:
- Recession 2008
- Rise in unemployment and poverty
- Job insecurity
- Attachment to job status and income
- Not being able to be the provider
- Buffer Generation – major social changes
- Divorce – average age now 45
- Less social networks
Despite sociological changes and equalisation over recent decades, in many households, the man is still the main income provider. Additionally, supporting his family financially may be linked to perceptions of self-worth. The recession may have threatened or compromised this ability and resulted in stress, depression or anxiety.
Men don’t value emotional talk, so wouldn’t consider discussing how they are feeling with fiends or colleagues. They often feel there is shame or stigma attached to admitting there is a problem so men then don’t go on to seek help. Some men also see asking for help as a sign of weakness and a slur on their masculinity.
Research from the Samaritans identified the buffer generation as being particularly at risk of suicide. This generation is defined as those born in the 1960s and 70s, who may have had an austere, strong, silent style of parenting from their father. They are trying to adapt that style to a new generation of progressive, open and individualistic children. This could result in them struggling to understand what it means to be ‘manly’ in today’s world.
This may be further exacerbated by the women in their lives becoming increasingly independent, divorce rates leaving them taking on aspects of the care-giver role and having weak emotional support networks.
Men sometimes implement other coping strategies which can include:
- Larking about
- Working excessively
- Drug abuse
Whilst some of these coping strategies have the natural benefits of social interaction, they are more of a distraction than a support. The other types listed above can have serious negative impacts on mental health, either immediately or when practised over a longer period.
Suicide and Mental Health
Sometimes there is a mental health condition such as Depression, Bipolar Disorder or Psychosis or an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. However, it is important to remember that the majority of people with a mental health condition do not commit suicide. It is also true to say that not all completed suicides are by people who have a mental health diagnosis.
Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling. Let them know what’s going on for you as they may be able to offer support and keep you safe.
There is never a right or wrong way to starting any conversation about mental health – what’s important is that the conversation is started. This also applies if you are worried about someone and how they might be feeling.