Men are four times more likely than women to commit suicide. The men who are most prone to commit suicide are poor, middle-aged men. This group is up to ten times more likely to commit suicide than men from higher socio-economic situations. This is a community mental health crisis that we need to address as a society. But why are men committing suicide at such astonishing rates? What about this group is so vulnerable and what can society do to help reduce this alarmingly high suicide rate?
Factors Contributing to High Suicide Rates in Men
There is not one singular factor that contributes to the alarming rate at which middle-aged men are committing suicide. Rather, there seem to be multiple factors contributing to this community mental health problem. Some of these factors include:
- Personality: Certain personality traits seem to contribute to suicidal thoughts, including feeling the need to be perfect, and a tendency to have negative thoughts and feelings in general and about the future. When these traits are present and some of the other factors below are also present, the risk of suicide increases.
- Traditional Gender Roles: That old expectation of men being the main breadwinner of the family, which means having a job and providing for his family, is still persistent in how many men see their role in the family. When men believe they are not meeting that role, they feel a sense of shame and defeat. Combined with depression or other mental health problems, these feelings can lead some men to committing suicide as a way to regain control.
- Relationship Failures: Men are more likely than women to commit suicide after the breakdown of a marriage. This may be because men rely more on their partners for emotional support than women. Studies have found that divorced men have more suicidal thoughts than divorced women, and separated men are twice as likely than separated women to have planned suicide. Also, during separation and divorce, men are more likely to be separated from their children, which could also lead to depression and play a role in some men’s suicidal thoughts.
- Lack of Emotional Support: Men are often reluctant to talk about their emotions, and are less likely to get formal support for emotional problems. Because they do not recognize or deal with these emotional issues, they are more likely to let distress build up until they are well into crisis mode.
- Economic Factors: Both men and women in the lowest social class are at a higher risk of suicide than their peers in higher classes. Men in this class division are more likely than women to commit suicide. Men facing unemployment are also more likely to contemplate suicide.
A Community Mental Health Problem
In a 2016 study, it was estimated that 115 people are impacted by a single suicide. With suicide being the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., taking the lives of approximately 47,000 people, nearly 5 million Americans are being affected by suicide each year. Suicide in general is a community mental health issue that needs to be addressed by the community. With men being four times more likely to commit suicide than women, there is a disproportionate amount of people being affected by male suicide.
If you or someone you know is struggling, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 1-800-273-8255.
What Do We Do About It?
Suicide prevention is usually focused on reducing the rate of suicide overall, without targets to reduce the risk of suicide in specific groups, such as men or people from lower socio-economic classes, for instance. Specific strategies need to be developed to target these groups who are at a higher risk because the current strategy of one-size-fits-all prevention is obviously not impacting middle-aged men.
Suicide prevention measures need to take into account the beliefs, concerns, and problems of these different groups. Agencies need to remove the barriers that are keeping men from engaging with the services that are available and find a way to be more effective for them (and other groups being under served).
For men in particular, there need to be explicit links between suicide prevention strategies and alcohol/substance abuse prevention strategies, as there are direct links between these two issues. Ignoring this link is ignoring a contributing factor to the high rate of male suicide. Substance abuse services for men need to respond to the suicide risk associated with alcohol and drug abuse, particularly in the context of employment or financial difficulties and relationship breakdown – areas where these issues are often linked for men.
Another connection that is important in creating a suicide prevention strategy tailored towards men, is the link between treatment for depression and suicide prevention. It is well-known that these two things can often go hand in hand. However, the way men experience depression, the stigma many men feel in asking for help, and the way in which they ask for help are different from women’s experiences with depression and seeking help.
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It is important to support and train general practitioners in recognizing the signs of depression or distress in men. When women go to the doctor, they are regularly asked about symptoms of depression, but how often are men asked these questions? If they are being asked, is it being done in a way that they would respond to, or is it being done the same way it is for women? That blanket approach may not be the most effective since men and women experience depression differently and reach out for help differently.
Community mental health providers also need to be making sure men from underprivileged backgrounds have access to a range of support and treatment strategies, and not just medication.
As individuals, we can start by asking the men in our lives how they are doing, starting with our boys. We can make a huge impact on how men see vulnerability and asking for help by teaching our children that it is okay to reach out for help and to talk to someone when they are in distress. If we do that, hopefully the next generation will see a drop in male suicides rather than the increases that are happening today.
Suicide is a scary topic. Often people are not sure how to approach the subject with someone or how to identify when someone is in crisis. Since many men are still reluctant to share when they are struggling, it makes it harder to identify and ultimately help men who are contemplating suicide. However, it is never wrong to ask someone how he is doing or if he needs help. It is also not wrong to reach out and ask for help yourself when you see someone in your life struggling. Fixing this community mental health problem is not an easy task, but it is not impossible and something we need to begin working on today.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on The Importance of a Dad.
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