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The silent epidemic of male suicides

I am writing this blog as one of what I believe will be the first of others to come on this topic as I would hope that my blogs will get read by men too and that maybe just one point resonates with someone to take the first step in getting help.

Thankfully, the plight of mental health and wellbeing is gaining much more momentum, but it’s largely aimed at supporting the younger generation or those in old age (ie. we hear much about the negative effects of social media on children and loneliness in the elderly) so I really wanted to focus on men in the middle-aged category.

In the UK, suicide is the highest cause of death among men under the age of 45. In fact, the highest suicide rate in the UK is recorded for men aged 40–44.

Male suicide rates are higher than female suicide rates, and a possible reason for this is that women are more able to manage complex emotions, as well as having more flexible coping strategies than men. The reasons also suggest that men are socialised to internalise their feelings and this could inhibit them from reaching out for the help that they need.

Whilst suicide attempts can often be a cry for help, the statistics also demonstrate that men are more successful at it as they frequently resort to more violent measures.

But whilst there remains a debate as to why more men take their lives than women, the bottom line is that we cannot really specify the exact reason as suicide is a complex behaviour with a range of risk factors. They may include any of the following:

• A business failure • Forced retirement • 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.

Relationship breakdown and bereavement are well-known triggers for male suicide. The average age for divorce is 45, with middle-aged men more likely to live alone than ever before.

Research suggests women tend to do better after divorce because they are generally better at maintaining contact with friends and family during their relationship and therefore it is much easier for them to tap in to this support when needed. For men, however, once they no longer have the sociability that their relationship brought, they can find they have fallen off the social radar at a time of loss and often perceived failure. Men’s same-sex friendships are more likely to wane after the age of 30, and men are often reluctant to reach out to old friends for support.

So when we can start to understand this at a deeper level, it’s very easy to see how men can go down this slippery slope of depression to suicidal feelings. Help is out there for them – they just need to be brave enough to take that first step in accepting support and realise that they’re not alone.

Suicide is such a sad waste of life – everyone has something to live for, they just have to find that reason.

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