Suicide is the leading cause of death for men aged 35 to 49, equaling 12.6% of male deaths. Nearly 4 times as many men aged 20 to 34 died as a result of suicide and injury or poisoning of undetermined intent than women. 76%of people who kill themselves are men according to ONS. On average 13 men each day take their life through suicide in the UK.
We are continually bombarded with messages about our health; healthy eating, exercise, reducing alcohol intake but, in men these things are important but do not reduce the risk of the number one killer: suicide. What messages are there to encourage men to speak out about their ‘feelings’ and to have an identity outside of the stereotypical image of masculinity which piles on so much pressure. Pressure that I had never seen acknowledged before researching for this blog post.
(As a side note, most sources agree that suicide is the number one cause of male mortality before at least 35, but the reason I have said that suicide is the number one even though as age increases heart disease and cancers are more prevalent is because the risk of the other diseases is due to the affects of age on the body like a slower metabolism unlike how mental health is present all the way through life in men; throughout their lives there is risk of suicide whereas that is not the case for the other diseases. The boys that I am around at the moment in sixth form, eat, in my opinion, the same as grown men and many have now stopped exercising but remain, on the most part, slim therefore my case is that other diseases develop because of slower metabolism as men age, not because a change in habits even more so as men are drinking more earlier in life also. Mental health risk does not decline or increase in this way, it is constant.)
This is essentially the problem- that such a huge epidemic, pandemic, of men’s mental health has taken a sideline for so long. Suicide being the number one cause of male mortality isn’t even a new issue, according to https://www.thecalmzone.net, in 1981, suicide among males was extremely high and continued to be high, in fact increasing from 14.6% in 20-24 year olds to 31.9% in 85 and overs. The same source demonstrated the chasm between mental health levels or treatment in males and females-26.5% in 45-49 year olds compared to 7.3% in the same age category.
So why is this? Why do men account for 76% of all suicides and why do 4,500 men kill themselves every year in Britain?
The risk of suicide is increased by:
Previous history of mental illness in close relations.
Because men are the ones most likely to have mental illnesses that lead to suicide, they are more likely to have a history of male mental health in their close relations. The fact that generation of generation of men with mental health illnesses aren’t being helped or acknowledged isn’t helping.
Harmful drug and alcohol use.
Men also drink more, being twice more likely to binge drink than women and having a 17% chance of becoming alcohol dependant compared to less than half of this for women. Drugabuse.gov, states that men are more likely than women to use all types of illicit drugs which results in higher rates of overdose in men and men have higher rates of dependency.
A YouGov survey for the Movember Charity found that 12% of men do not have a friend they would discuss a serious topic and that 51% have two friends or less. I think that this may be due to the stereotype a man’s role in society- of being a rock, a provider; it doesn’t really allow for men to confide in others about something that is bothering them as much as women.Men and women also talk about problems differently, not naturally however, as children we all see our problems and want to communicate our problems in the same way in relation to gender, but as boys grow they are conditioned to be ‘men’ as Professor Damien Ridge put it, “There’s a time when boys are allowed to cry and then suddenly they’re not allowed to cry any more. You’ve got to be a man.”
In this case, loneliness is induced by masculinity.
Loneliness is induced by masculinity. In the report by HuffPostUK and the CALM charity, Professor Ridge also says that GP’s aren’t trained to pick up on how men talk about their distress and that the system is more geared towards treating women, weakening the effect GP’s can have on a patient despite being the most likely contact.
The Movember Foundation sums it up as, “Many men tough it out and struggle alone.”
Stressful life situations or situations that seem out of their control like unemployment, broken relationships and chronic health issues.
This may again relate to gender roles as men feel more financial pressure so being unemployed kind of strips men of their ‘role’. This may seem old-fashioned but an audit by CALM and the HuffPostUK prove that ‘men are more likely to feel pressure to be the main earner in families’, with 31% of men agreeing with this statement compared to 19% of women. Furthermore, a quarter of men admitted that losing their job would make them feel less of a person compared to 17% of women. Not having gender equality in terms of wages is not just oppressing women, it is oppressing their male counterparts who suffer in silence.
In terms of relationships, the audit also found that 4/10 males felt that they lacked the qualities that partners looked for in a man. Again, the identity of being a ‘man’ is what is contributing to many of these problems. 26% thought that they weren’t good looking enough and 26% felt that they weren’t confident enough; a testament to the ‘stranglehold’ men are under as I would never have thought that men suffer from the same self esteem as women even though it seems obvious to me now. 36% felt the need to be decisive, which is not a personality trait that everyone has and that women are actually looking for, the report went on to say. There is a disparity between what partners want and what men think that they want.
Also, men that were sexually abused (another taboo) are at risk of many mental health problems but this group has not been researched as much as sexually abused women. The fact that there are more sexually abused women known in numbers does not take away that 1 in 6 boys under 18 years old are sexually abused according to 1in6.org and that 1 in 6 is enough, more than enough for more representation for these individuals to be shown. A recent study by the CSA has investigated the recent suicide attempts among men with histories of child sexual abuse.
In conclusion, as more organizations like the CALM charity and the Movember Foundation raise awareness of this issue it will be more present in our minds but this will not lead to change; there have been high rates of suicide in former armed forces members since WW1, more than 100 years ago, but yet, we’re still here, almost stagnant in how men and their mental health are treated. The only solution that I can think of is that the treatment of men changes because society being ‘aware’ of the problem hasn’t done much damage; if GP’s, the individuals that are given the responsibility to care for our health are trained to communicate with men in a way that reveals the signs of mental illness and begin treating or providing services and drugs, we will begin to see that the problem is real as it is being treated as a physical illness that is not imaginary. This may link with how mental health is still treated with a wariness that doesn’t help anyone.
Even this attempt at a solution seems useless. We need to break down these gender roles and fixed ideas of identity and masculinity, we need celebrities to endorse that it is masculine to cry, masculine to talk about your problems or that doing these things doesn’t make you any less masculine, any more useful as a person. As a man.
Do you have any better suggestions? I’d love to hear them all- we need to target this issue, even though our voices are quiet individually, together we can make a racket.
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