Why it's time to talk about male suicide

It’s time to talk about male suicide [Photo: Getty]
It’s time to talk about male suicide [Photo: Getty]

Every single week 84 men in the UK take their own lives.

Male suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45, with 75 per cent of all suicides in the UK being reported as men.

Those are some pretty terrifying statistics to get your head round.

Overall, we have been making strides in the understanding and treatment of mental health issues of late.

Last month a major new study revealed that antidepressants were an effective treatment for depression in adults.

And last September statistics revealed a downward trend in the number of suicides over the past 36 years.

But though these steps are encouraging, when it comes to the issue of male mental health and suicide the conversation is most definitely stalling.

Throwing light on the issue

That’s why ITV has this week launched a new campaign to raise awareness about the number of men that commit suicide every week.

Unveiling harrowing sculptures on top of ITV’s London buildings the campaign, “Project 84” launched by charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) aimed to throw a light around the subject of male suicide.

Each sculpture that can currently be seen standing on top of the ITV buildings on London’s Southbank represents a real man who took his own life.

“CALM has been campaigning and providing support services for 11 years but, try as we might, it isn’t enough to tackle the enormous problem of male suicide,” said Simon Gunning, CEO of CALM.

“So with Project 84, we wanted to make the scale of the situation very clear to everyone that sees the sculptures.”

Are we facing a crisis in male mental health? [Photo: Getty]
Are we facing a crisis in male mental health? [Photo: Getty]

Suffering in silence

So, why is there still such a culture of silence surrounding male suicide, and indeed male mental health in general?

Sue Baker OBE, Director of Time to Change, the mental health anti-stigma campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness

“Our research shows that men are ‘lagging behind’ when it comes to attitudes towards those of us with mental health problems,” explains Sue Baker OBE, Director of Time to Change, the mental health anti-stigma campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

“Although things are improving, men are still more likely than women to hold prejudicial attitudes, and are less knowledgeable on the topic of mental health as a whole,” she continues.

“In practical terms, this can mean men don’t see mental health as relevant to them, and don’t reach out for vital support, for fear of being judged.”

Chloe Ward, TMS Technician at Smart TMS, a specialist provider of Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation therapy (rTMS), a technological breakthrough in the treatment of depression, agrees that stereotypical views about men can play a part in cultivating a culture of silence.

“Men seem to be suffering in silence as men’s mental health seems to still be a taboo in some circumstances, environments and work places,” she explains.

“Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in England and Wales, yet it is rarely talked about, maybe due to the male stereotype which is conflicted in a lot of our environments around us; ‘men are tough and strong’ and ‘men don’t cry’.”

And why do men, in particular seem so vulnerable to suicide?

Chloe believes there are a number of reasons male suicide statistics are so concerning right now.

“One reason may be the personality trait of impulsivity – the tendency to act without properly thinking about the consequences,” she explains.

“Men are on the whole more likely to be impulsive than women, maybe leaving them more vulnerable to spur-of-the moment suicidal behaviour. ”

Although Chloe points out that not all suicidal attempts are impulsive, there is a clear correlation found between alcohol use increasing impulsivity and a clear correlation between alcohol use and suicide.

“There is no single reason why men take their own lives as suicide is complex but what is known is that the male suicide rates are increasing more by the year,” she says.

Male suicide statistics are at their highest level since 2001 [Photo: Getty]
Male suicide statistics are at their highest level since 2001 [Photo: Getty]

What can we do to ensure men get the help they need?

Chloe would like to see men being given time to talk in an environment they feel comfortable in, where they are not judged and listened too.

“Whether this is in the form of counselling or even in the form of meet-ups with individuals who may be going through a similar thought process,” she says.

“Men need to know it is okay to talk about their mental health, it doesn’t change how people see and perceive them but if they are struggling they should not be struggling alone.”

Time for change’s new campaign, In Your Corner, is seeking to address the culture of silence by encouraging men to be there for one another.

“We want to put mental health on the radar and show that you don’t need to be an expert to be there for someone struggling with their mental health,” says Sue Baker.

“Essentially, it’s about being a good friend – just doing everyday, ordinary things can make a big difference.”

Sue suggests a couple of simple measures people can adopt to help someone who might be battling a mental health problem.

  1. Text, call, reach out to your mate

  2. Ask how they are, listen without judging

  3. Be yourself, do everyday things.

According to statistics male suicide rates are now at their highest level since 2001.

So it is more important than ever to get the conversation about male mental health started.

That’s something the Samaritans and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) have been trying to encourage.

They want to encourage men feeling low, anxious or struggling to cope to seek the right type of support.

Speaking about the issue last summer, chair of BACP, Dr Andrew Reeves, said: “Men have emotional needs in exactly the same way as women: they feel things such as anger, grief, shame, sadness and anxiety in the same way. The difference is men feel the need to keep their emotions secret, adding feelings of shame and isolation to the emotional mix.

“Traditionally, more women than men have sought counselling, and this is in itself not a surprise. The concept of talking about feelings and exploring emotional and psychological difficulties has, for many years, been seen as a ‘female’ rather than ‘male’ trait.

“Thankfully things are beginning to change with more men seeking counselling and seeing it as both a positive and relevant source of help.”

If you’re concerned about suicidal thoughts you can contact the Samaritans anytime – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – and the number 116 123 is free to call.

To find a therapist in your area visit http://www.itsgoodtotalk.org.uk/

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