Gender stereotypes and why suicide is higher among men.
Some of us are perhaps still shocked and heartbroken by the death of Rock Legend, Chester Bennington, the singer from Linken Park, Avicii, Swedish EDM DJ. Chester committed suicide by hanging himself in his private home, alone. When I read this, I felt deeply sad. I didn't know Chester, of course, but something more than that made me feel overwhelmed by the news, - it triggered the memory of my friend Alex who, like Chester, committed suicide at his home, nearly 3 years ago.
Still fresh in my memory, when I last spoke to him, he seemed in good form, in a good spirits, smiling and laughing. It never crossed my mind that it was the last time I would see him. A few weeks later, he was gone.
I knew he was struggling with depression and drug addiction, and he was seeking help from professionals, but obviously it was not enough!. I wish I could have helped him more but when I asked him at that time he said he was 'doing fine and ok'.
"Often it's the loudest voice in the room, the life and soul of the party, that is really struggling"
According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics UK, people who die from suicide is 3 times higher than all road accidents, cancers, infectious and parasitic diseases combined.
It also reported that men are 4 times likely to die by suicide than women. More men in the UK have died by suicide in the past 5 years than all British soldiers fighting in all wars since 1945.
In 2015, the total 6,188 number of suicides registered in the UK, 75% of them were men. These numbers are the accumulation of thousands upon thousands of untold stories, of men who didn't make it...
Although as many as 90% of suicides occur in the context of mental illness there is always an environmental element that can be the trigger. In addition, most of us like to think that the type of men who die by suicide are the unwell, disturbed, unlucky, or who stumble at life's biggest hurdles and are too weak to move on. However, this is not the necessarily the case and suicide in men can occur in many different environments and circumstances.
The thing people always want to know is: "why?
Professor Rory O'Connor, a psychologist at Glasgow University who has research published in the British Medical Journal in 2013, showed that during the 2008 recession, English regions with the largest rise in unemployment had the largest increase in suicides. However, in his research, he also showed the puzzle that most people who died from suicide were at work.
Consider recent high-profiles/celebrities example of suicide; like Chester Bennington (Singer - Linkin Park), Chris Cornell (Singer - SoundGarden), Robin Williams (Actor), Alexander McQueen (Fashion Designer) and many more. It is often men who had it all - money, fame, and the respect and admiration of the public. And yet some of us still think - why did they do that?
We forget to consider that their mental health is part of reason they end their life, we forget to think that all those external glories and glamour may not able to alleviate their inner pain.
Perhaps the simple answer is, we don't know why - simply because we refuse to talk about it.
Most researches think that the answer to this complex "why" question is a combination of numerous different risk factors and negative life events that can push vulnerable people over the edge.
Well, we know common factors and experiences that contribute to suicide: relationship breakdowns, bereavement, socioeconomic factors and mental health problems. These factors affect women and men, but it still remains a puzzle that leads to reoccurring research that shows men are much more likely to commit suicide than women across a broad age group - the rate for men is 3 times higher than women.
It is equally true that women are around 3 times more likely to make an attempt. The difference is normally attributed to the method; men are more likely than women to choose a more lethal method such as hanging or shooting themselves.
Dr Martin Seager, a Clinical Psychologist for Samaritans Central London branch whose works focused on male psychology traces this paradox of gender. He suggests that women are in general more prepared to seek help and show their distress.
A female attempt is often closer to a cry for help, hoping for a response, whereas men typically are seeking a different outcome. According to Dr Seager, when a man makes a suicide attempt, he doesn't want anyone to hear it, he wants to succeed.
Men are not only having to fight the stigma of mental health but also that towards gender roles.
As a society we tend to be more sympathetic toward women than men. We also view men who cannot deal with their own issues as weak, so men are more reluctant to admit to the problems they face, hence they do not receive as much support which may lead to increase likelihood to suicide.
From an early age, young boys are often described as being 'big', 'strong', and 'tough'. There are common sayings like 'man up', 'boys don't cry', or 'you're so brave'.
Although attitudes toward traditional masculinity and male roles have evolved, there is still strong gender stereotypes expectations, such as the idea that men should be strong and self sufficient and that asking for help is a sign of weakness and vulnerability.
Men are under great pressure to be self reliant and expected to be the breadwinner. Loss of employment and debt see many middle aged men facing the prospect of living in poverty, causing stress and not only a loss of identity but also a loss of masculinity.
The breakdown of relationships can have negative effects on both emotional and physical wellbeing. As the result of it, men are more likely to be separated from their children. Moreover, middle aged men tend to have fewer friends than any other group and rely on their partners for emotional support.
There is also no evidence to suggest that depression hits men harder than women.
Although there is no simple solution to reducing the number of men who take their own lives, I think one of the most important things we can do to reduce suicide in men is - to encourage ourselves talk more and open-up about our feelings and emotions, while ridding ourselves of the unrealistic and outdated expectations we place on ourselves as men. It is also important to sign post to supportive charities such as the Samaritans.
For many men opening up about their feeling is the biggest social taboo - it's what girls do and there is no bigger embarrassment for a 'real man' than to be compared to a girl.
Samaritans provides emotional support, 24 hours for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or thoughts of suicide. 08457 90 90 90.
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Misma Hemming - Counsellor, Psychotherapist, Life Coaching, Mentor