Male suicide: a silent epidemic
Despite the high incidence and level of contribution to men’s mortality, it is the lack of public awareness that makes this epidemic so silent.
09 April 2018
In the UK, suicide is the highest cause of death among men under the age 45. In fact the highest suicide rate in the UK is recorded for men aged 40–44.
Concerning gender and suicide, male rates are higher than female suicide rates, and one reason for this is that men are less likely to ask for help or express depressive or suicidal feelings.
Project 84(link is external), a campaign aimed at raising awareness, recently elevated eighty-four human sculptures in Central London, collectivly representing the reality of the 84 men who sadly take their lives each week.
But despite the numerous submissions and debates as to why more men take their lives than women, the bottom line is we cannot possibly pinpoint the exact reason. What we do know at the moment is limited and data is just data.
Suicide is a complex behaviour with a range of risk factors. It's imperative that the risk factor that are associated with the act of suicide are understood. Below are some of these risk factors:
- Prior suicide attempts
- Mental health problems – depression (often revealed through irritability, anger or hostility)
- Relationship problems
- Social isolation
- Exposure to bullying
- Substance abuse history
- Physical illness or disability
- Access to medication or weapons
- Recent bereavement (family member or a close friend)
- Losing a friend or family member to suicide
Male suicidal behaviours is often linked to a number external factors, such as an illness, a business failure and/or a forced retirement, thus suicide-prevention plans often fail to address individual internal or psychological factors such as feelings, personal shortcomings, or relationship issues.
Recently, there has been notably more suicide among older men. It could be that health professionals may be overlooking the signs of depression. Thus focusing on other problems such as heart disease, which can cause depressive symptoms, as well as medications that can have depressive side effects.
It has been suggested that lower suicide rates among women is due to women being able to manage complex emotions, as well as having flexible coping strategies than men. Also suggesting that men are socialised to internalise their feelings and this could inhibit them from reaching out for the help that they need.
Prevention and Intervention
The government has proclaimed a commitment to suicide research, however, there are still many challenges with suicide data across the UK and Republic of Ireland, and this has an impact on our understanding of male suicide.
Thus, there is an urgent need for the government to focus on reducing the rate of male suicide. It needs to be talked about it, understand and intervened. We need to refrain from simply maintaining the narrative that just because men are physically strong they must therefore avoid being seen as mentally weak.
Suicide prevention strategies and plans should be geared to support men to build the skills in dealing with issues that they face. Telling men to get help doesn’t take us very far in dealing with male suicide.
The causes of the driving factors should be identified, understood and addressed. We ought to dig deeper and take time to understand a very real problem facing the country.
Indeed further research work needs to be undertaken in the area of male suicide. The government needs to show readiness in investing in the cost of research, programs and campaigns in contesting the higher rates of male suicide!
It is only by breaking the silence of male suicide that we can build public awareness and implement preventive strategies that the we can address this very real epidemic.
Project 84 should be the wake-up call that needs to be taken seriously. Suggesting to men that they should reach out for help alone isn’t enough. We need to explore and intervene further. It needs to be made clear that suicide is not the permanent solution to a temporary problem.
About the author
Dr Funke Baffour is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist, Nutritional Advisor, and Associate Fellow of the Society, as well as an author, illustrator, and one of the UK's leading contributors to psychology in the media.