By Sonia Hickey
One researcher says: “The breach between what we know and what we actually do, is lethal.”
He’s talking about male suicide. The Australian Psychological Society estimates that close to 80% of all suicides in this country are male.
Suicide is the number one killer of men younger than 44, and it is also the cause of death with the highest gender disparity: For every 100 female suicides, there are 333 male suicides.
Why do more men kill themselves than women?
Some researchers believe that biologically, men are simply wired to be more fearless about death and have a higher pain tolerance – both are factors which suggest that men are more likely to follow through and be successful when suicide is an option.
But there are important psychological factors too, which often have to do with our ‘She’ll be right mate’ … ‘Suck it up’ … ‘Don’t be a woos’ Aussie culture, which makes men more reluctant to talk about their feelings. This attitude implies that if you’re a man in distress, you’re a man with a weakness.
As a result, men are more likely to be stoic in the face of adversity. Some experts go so far as to say that, because our ‘big boys don’t cry’ mentality is completely entrenched in males from the time they are children, men who then suffer negative emotions such as sadness and loneliness later in life, don’t actually know how to identify them, label them or deal with them.
Depression, bereavement, relationship breakdowns, separation from children, financial hardship, as well as problems with drugs and alcohol are all linked to male suicide.
Men living in rural locations have a higher suicide rate than those living in metropolitan areas, and those with an indigenous heritage are 2.5 times more likely to kill themselves than non-Indigenous males.
What can we do?
We can give this problem more attention for a start.
Five men in Australia kill themselves every day. Male suicide numbers are higher than the annual national road toll, and yet the issue is rarely talked about.
We can start to comprehend the social consequences too, of what happens when a male ends his own life: families and communities lose a much-loved brother, son, father, uncle, cousin, nephew, or grandfather. The devastation is far reaching.
The good news is that organisations such as ‘Soften the fck up’ are providing resources and information for men in younger age groups, as a preventative measure, aimed at helping young men to understand that while mental health can be a lifelong battle for some, the really tough moments, those times when it’s almost impossible to see that things might improve, never last. Life changes, our highs and our lows are only temporary and no matter what today feels like, tomorrow offers a new beginning, a fresh start and limitless possibilities.
The website also aims to challenge the ‘blokey male’ stereotype, encouraging young men to talk to each other, even about the ‘uncomfortable’ stuff.
But men of all ages need these kinds of resources. The highest rate of suicide in males in 2013 was is in the 85+ age group, followed by the 40-44 year age group. Clearly, suicide does not just affect one section of the male population.
Mental health experts are critical of the fact that we have more than enough proof that male suicide is at epidemic levels, and yet we are not successfully addressing it, especially as there’s also a great deal of evidence to show that men respond well to psychological-based treatments.
Treatments which focus on their strengths as opposed to their weaknesses and which enhance their ability to communicate and develop better coping strategies to get control over their emotions.
Men need help from men
It is also suggested that men really need to help each other, not because this is a man’s problem, but because the complex sensitivities around male suicide are best understood and empathised with by other men, especially those who have experienced the day-to-day pressure of having to ‘maintain face’ amongst family and peers when underneath they are crumbling.
It is this very cycle of having to ‘hold it all together’, feeling trapped with no one to talk to, and not being able to navigate a way out seemingly hopeless circumstances that creates a vortex in which men’s mental health plummets and suicide becomes an option.
We desperately need to stop the cycle.
If a male you know is struggling with mental health, the following resources are available.