Sadly, there are about 270 suicides in Northern Ireland each year with three times as many men than women, committing suicide. Every 6 seconds, someone contacts the Samaritains who report 250,000 calls are made for help each year in Northern Ireland. These are shocking statistic. But why is this happening?
The Samaritans have done a lot of work looking at men and suicide and the resulting information shows that men in mid-life, from disadvantaged backgrounds seem to be most at risk. Men living in these circumstances are up to 10 times more at risk of suicide than those living in the most advantaged conditions.
Research reveals that:
- Men compare themselves against a ‘gold standard’ which prizes power, control and invincibility;
- Men in mid-life are now part of the ‘buffer’ generation, not sure whether to be like their older, more traditional, strong, silent, austere fathers or like their younger, more progressive, individualistic sons;
- With the decline of traditional male industries, these men have lost not only their jobs but also a source of masculine pride and identity;
- Men in mid-life remain overwhelmingly dependent on a female partner for emotional support.
There are 6 key themes identified when discussing the issues men suffer with:
- Personality traits– some traits can interact with factors such as deprivation, unemployment, social disconnection and triggering events, such as relationship breakdown or job loss, to increase the risk of suicide.
- Masculinity– more than women, men respond to stress by taking risks, like misusing alcohol and drugs.
- Relationship breakdowns– marriage breakdown is more likely to lead men, rather than women, to suicide.
- Challenges of mid-life– people currently in mid-life are experiencing more mental health problems and unhappiness compared to younger and older people.
- Emotional illiteracy– men are much less likely than women to have a positive view of counselling or therapy, and when they do use these services, it is at the point of crisis.
- Socio-economic factors– unemployed people are 2-3 times more likely to die by suicide than those in work and suicide increases during economic recession.
Psychological and personality traits
Some personality traits and ‘mind-sets’ contribute to the development of suicidal thoughts, including the belief that you must always meet the expectations of others; self-criticism; brooding; having no positive thoughts about the future and reduced social problem-solving ability. These traits can interact with factors such as deprivation and events such as relationship breakdown or job loss, to increase suicide risk.
Masculinity – the way men are brought up to behave, the roles, and attributes that society expects of them – contribute to suicide in men. Men compare themselves against a masculine ‘gold standard’ which prizes power, control and invincibility. When men believe they are not meeting this standard, they feel a sense of shame and defeat. Having a job and being able to provide for your family is central to ‘being a man’, particularly for working class men. Masculinity is associated with control, but when men are depressed or in crisis, they can feel out of control. This can propel some men towards suicidal behaviour as a way of regaining control. Men are also more likely to use drugs or alcohol in response to distress.
Relationship breakdown is more likely to lead men, rather than women, to suicide. Men rely more on their partners for emotional support and suffer this loss more acutely. Honour is also part of masculinity, and to be ‘disrespected’ in front of others by the actions of their partner (infidelity or abandonment) may lead to shame and/or impulsive reactions, perhaps to punish ex-partners. Men are more likely to be separated from their children and this plays a role in some men’s suicides.
Emotional lives and social disconnectedness
The way men are taught, through childhood, to be ‘manly’ does not emphasise social and emotional skills. Men can experience a ‘big build’ of distress, which can culminate in crisis. Men in mid-life are dependent primarily on female partners for emotional support. Women help them to recognise their own distress, provide them with care and encourage them to seek help. Women maintain close same-sex relationships across their lives, but men’s peer relationships drop away after the age of 30. Women are much more open to talking about emotions than men of all ages and social classes. Male friendships tend to be based on companionship through doing activities together. The ‘healthy’ ways men cope are using music or exercise to manage stress or worry, rather than ‘talking’. Men are much less likely than women to have a positive view of counselling or therapy. However, both men and women make use of these services at times of crisis.
Men in their mid-years today
Mid-life has traditionally been viewed as the prime of life. However, there is evidence of mental ill health and a dip in subjective wellbeing among people in their mid-years, compared to young and older people. Problems with relationships and employment during mid-life are experienced intensely, because by this life-stage, people have typically invested a great deal in work and relationships and the possibilities for making changes in these areas are limited. Men currently in their mid-years are the ‘buffer’ generation – caught between the traditional silent, strong, austere masculinity of their fathers and the more progressive, open and individualistic generation of their sons. They do not know which of these ways of life and masculine cultures to follow. In addition, since the 1970s, several social changes have impacted on personal lives, including rising female employment, increased partnering and de-partnering and solo-living. As a result, men in mid-life are increasingly likely to be living on their own, with little or no experience of coping emotionally or seeking help on their own, and few supportive relationships to fall back on.
There are systematic socio-economic inequalities in suicide risk. Socio-economic position can be defined in many ways – by job, class, education, income, or housing. Whichever indicator is used, people in the lower positions are at higher risk of suicide. As you go down each rung of the social ladder, the risk of suicide increases, even after taking into account underlying mental health problems. There is debate over precisely how low social position increases suicide risk. Suggestions include having many more adverse experiences, powerlessness, stigma and disrespect, social exclusion, poor mental health and unhealthy lifestyles.
Unemployment in the UK is higher among men than women. This is related to the decline of predominantly male types of employment, such as manufacturing. Men have also been affected by the general trend towards irregular work patterns, insecure or temporary work and self-employment, and the current recession.
Suicide is an individual act, the tragic culmination of mental health problems, feelings of defeat, entrapment, that one is worthless, unloved and does not matter. It’s essential to get help before the feelings of self-worth become overwhelming.
Just talking to someone is a really good way of seeing a different perspective and the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day to talk to anyone who is feeling that they can’t go on any more. It’s free to call and they can be contacted even if you aren’t feeling suicidal. Emotional support can be provided by telephone, text, email and face to face contact from one of their 8 branches in Ballymena, Belfast, Bangor, Coleraine, Derry/Londonderry, Newry, Omagh and Portadown.
tele no , Lighthouse 02890755070
lifeline helpline 08088088000
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Even if it feels like your issues are insurmountable or that taking your own life is your only option this is not true. There is always help to seek and a way to start living and enjoying your life again. At MaleMenu we want every man to feel needed, listened to, and valued. Join or start the conversation below- it may be a lifesaving one.