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Male suicide

One of the most talked about topics of our time is male suicide. It is no mystery as to why this is the case. All suicide is, of course, a vital issue that needs to be tackled head-on. However, there is a major disparity between the genders when it comes to deaths from suicide. Men are three times more likely than women to take their own lives. In the UK, the suicide rate amongst men is 15.5 deaths per 100,00. The suicide rate amongst women is 4.9 per 100,000. This is not just the case here in the UK either, the male to female suicide ratio is similar in the USA and Australia. In some countries the divide is even higher; in Russia and Argentina men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women. Globally, nearly 40% of countries have a suicide rate of more than 15 per 100,00 men, compared to just 1.5% with similar rates for women.

Throughout this post, I am going to explore why this is the case and what we can do about it.


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Why do more men commit suicide?

Conversely, women are more likely than men to attempt suicide. However, men are more likely to die in their attempts. This is largely down to the fact that men tend to choose more extreme methods of suicide. For instance, men are more likely to jump from great heights or use firearms, whereas women are more likely to overdose.

There is also a combination of social factors in the male suicide rate. Namely, stereotypical gender roles and ideas of masculinity. Men are expected to be "strong" and get on with their lives rather than express any perceived weakness. Talking about how you are feeling is considered to be somewhat "feminine" and something that has historically been discouraged amongst men. Consequently, men will often bottle things up or deny that they are in distress.

Owing to the above, men will often try to "self-medicate" by turning to alcohol and other substances. Whereas women are more likely to talk and seek help. However, excessive alcohol use leads to an increased risk of suicide, as it lowers inhibitions and increases impulsive behaviour.

This is why phrases such as "man up" or "be a man" are harmful and we need to stop using them. It is precisely the line of thinking behind such sayings that leave men feeling unable to reach out and seek the help they need.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, however. Suicide is a complex subject and no two cases are exactly the same. The reasons people commit suicide will vary drastically from case to case and it is seldom down to one single cause.

Other factors will include unemployment and relationship breakdowns. Traditionally, men have been expected to be the main breadwinners. While times are changing and women are playing more equal roles in relationships, men still believe that part of their role as a man is to be the primary provider for their families. Therefore unemployed men may feel a sense of failure and shame. Even men who do not have a family may feel by a certain age that they should have their lives on track and be financially secure. Unemployment affects women too of course, but they tend to have more safety nets socially speaking, which may explain their lower suicide risk.

Men are also more by relationship breakdowns. This is largely because men tend to have a smaller social circle than women. Women generally have more friends and are more likely to discuss personal matters with those friends. They also tend to maintain friendships with other women throughout their lives, while men over 30 will often become distanced from their friends. This also ties in with the above on the effects of unemployment.


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What can be done about it?

Combating suicide is no easy task and there is no magic solution. However, support for mental health issues is increasing all the time. In fact, in spite of the above, the male suicide rate is at it's lowest since 1981. This suggests we are at last doing something right and we need to continue pushing in this direction. Nonetheless, we still have a way to go in combating the stigma around mental health issues and damaging stereotypes about masculinity.

We need to do away with the notion that "boys don't cry" and not only make it okay for men to talk about how they are feeling, but assert that this is a sign of strength.

One way in which support has increased in recent years is via the growth of the internet. This has provided us with a variety of options that were not available only a few decades ago and made it easier for people to reach out in times of need. By raising awareness of the support networks available via the online world we can enable more people to speak out if they otherwise find it difficult.

We can also focus on the impact that suicide leaves on those left behind. The men's mental health charity CALM, Campaign Against Living Miserably, has a movement called Project 84. The name is a reference to the 84 men who take their own lives every week in the UK. The movement aims to remind of the devastation to loved ones and cancel out the notion that you are doing them a favour by removing yourself from the picture.

Additionally, we can simply make suicide harder to achieve. For example, deaths from jumping Clifton suspension bridge have halved since barriers were installed. Furthermore, there is nothing to suggest that there has been an upsurge in jumps from other places in the area as a result of this. Similar measures could be implemented in other suicide hotspots with the aim of achieving the same sort of outcome.

Governments can get involved too. In the UK, the government announced it's first suicide prevention minister on World Health Day 2018. No doubt a huge step in tackling the problem of suicide and hopefully one which will continue to grow and develop worldwide.


Warmest regards,
Jamie x


Photo by Elijah O'Donnell on Unsplash


Facts and figures
  • Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45
  • Male suicides have invariably accounted for around three-quarters of all suicides in the UK since the mid-90s  
  • In the Republic of Ireland, men are four times likely to kill themselves than women
  • The highest suicide rate in the UK is amongst men aged 45 - 49
  • Northern Ireland has the highest suicide rate in the UK, although rates are not always exactly comparable
  • There were 6,213 suicides in the UK and the Republic of Ireland in 2017 alone.

Sources
https://www.samaritans.org/wales/about-samaritans/research-policy/suicide-facts-and-figures/
http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190313-why-more-men-kill-themselves-than-women
https://www.thecalmzone.net/help/get-help/suicide/
https://www.samaritans.org/wales/about-samaritans/research-policy/middle-aged-men-suicide/

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