With Father’s Day here, we felt it essential that we touch on a poignant topic: the silent and rising epidemic of male suicide. Generation by generation, ideals and preconceptions are passed down, regarding the expected roles of men and women. Men are taught to put on a brave face, to provide without complaint and endure without seeking help. The idea that men show or experience less emotion is deeply ingrained in our social psyche. Even if we ourselves do not encourage these ideas, many men still quietly maintain this sense of stoic duty.
In this age of information and connectedness, it’s time we started facing the facts, statistics and science. It’s true, more women are diagnosed with clinical depression than men but the following suicide statistics point to a rise in dangerous, undiagnosed psychological issues affecting men.
- Since records started being collected on the topic, men have accounted for the majority of deaths by suicide, regardless of country, culture or age group.
- This fact remains true to this day and it’s frightening to think that suicide is steadily inching its way up the ladder of leading causes of death.
- The suicide rate has increased by more than 25% over the past 15 years and it seems that more and more, men are suffering the most.
- While there’s been an overall increase of 25%, suicide amongst men has increased by almost 50%.
- Suicide is 3.5 times more common amongst men, 7 out of 10 of which are white, middle aged males and many of whom are veterans.
- According to the CDC, suicide makes the top ten list of leading causes of death in men, worldwide, regardless of ethnicity.
- Over a million individuals die by suicide every year, the vast majority of these victims being male.
What this information suggests is that while women are more inclined to seek help for mental ailments, something in our gender-cultural mindset may be causing men to hold back on asking for help. Traditionally, women are expected to voice and display emotional fragility, not so for men. Perhaps our preconceptions regarding the stoic-masculine are forcing men into a state of denial…it’s time for us to make a change. It’s time we started staring mental illness in the face, because our denial is costing lives.
We may have a tendency to assume that men are coping merely because they are putting on a brave face just as is expected of them. The pressures of finance, family and every day life weigh heavily on men, combined with a stereotypical expectation factor governing their every social interaction. We’re not saying that women aren’t victims of similar stereotypes, just that so called ‘masculinity’ has at its root certain factors (such as suppression of emotion) which are contributing to their psychological breakdown.
On average, women are three times more likely to attempt suicide, whereas men are 3.5 times more likely to succeed. Some speculate that this is due to the likelihood of men choosing a more lethal method, like a gun or hanging, but this could point to the fact that women are more inclined to use self harm as a means of expression when they’re in need. Meaning, these ‘attempted suicide’ statistics may not all reflect actual attempts but ‘cries for help’, as it were.
First and foremost, it’s everyone’s responsibility to look inward at our damaging preconceptions, as men, young and old, and as concerned family members. In the leading demographic for male suicide (middle aged, caucasian, employed or veteran) most victims are employed men who experience psychological, stress induced break down as a result of pressured work and family environments.
The absence of a therapeutic outlet contributes to a devastating emotional build up and victims have a tendency to seek consolation in the maintenance of destructive habits. Substance abuse, lack of sleep, overworking, lack of exercise and in particular, elevated consumption of stress inducing foods all aggravate the situation and contribute to these alarming statistics among men.
If we recognize the elevated suicide risk amongst our male population, we will go a long way toward altering damaging social norms regarding the masculine-stoic role, where men are unwilling to admit defeat or seek counseling in times of stress, emotional trauma, addiction, depression and breakdown.
Certain studies have shown that the lack of social and familial support available to men, compared to women, could be a definitive risk factor in male suicide. Key triggers for victims include lack of communication, home troubles, overworking, financial security, substance abuse and poor lifestyle – all of which may be connected to each other in a vicious break down cycle, eventually ending in suicide. All these risk factors are tied in with community and family in such a way that if we are vigilant, we may be able to prevent such tragedies from occurring.
One of the most critical aspects of problem solving is conversation, which allows for better analysis of the problem and potential solutions. Loved ones need to be encouraged to seek outside help from a psychologist or a psychiatrist for difficult conversations, or should they be experiencing symptoms of stress and depression or worse, suicidal thoughts.
Studies show that people with a sense of purpose in life or who are active members of organizations of faith, service or higher-purpose, are less inclined to attempt or commit suicide. The closeness of faith communities and the emotional / expressional nature of such systems is bound to have a preventative effect. We cannot live life doing only as we are expected to do from day to day, we must have outlets for self expression, creativity, and life-purpose, in order to find ourselves and know our own worth.
It’s vital that we realize that the food we eat, how we move, the quality of our sleep and our general lifestyle habits affect not only our physical state of health but also our mental health. Our ability to process and cope with stress, emotional trauma and everyday challenges is dependent on the nutrition available to us. A plant-based diet chock full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and low in sugar and saturated fats will go a long way in providing resilience and an environment where the brain cells thrive. Just half an hour of daily vigorous activity can release neurochemicals that improve mood, memory and learning. A good nights sleep is the best ‘detox’ one can experience – our brain literally gets rid of toxins such as amyloid protein, that has been associated with neurodegenerative diseases. We should never underestimate the incremental environmental exposure – they are the building blocks of our mind.
Let’s celebrate this Father’s Day with new, empathic awareness of the challenges men face in this hectic climate and in a society that’s still tacitly impedes men from seeking help in their times of need. It is our responsibility to encourage a loving space in which men feel secure to share their troubles, concerns and limitation. It is our responsibility to help provide the necessary resources for them. It is always best to start with an honest conversation in a safe space, and it serves as a key factor in getting to the root of issues that may be affecting your loved one. Encourage it, initiate it and be sure that therapy or professional help is also understood to be an acceptable option, should it become necessary. That way, perhaps we can begin to fight this epidemic that’s costing the lives of our sons, brothers and fathers, not to mention those who have given so much of themselves in providing service to our countries in times of war. It’s high time we took stock of old stereotypes and make the changes necessary in our interactions and our lifestyles to drive back this terrible onslaught. Let’s give the gift of life this Father’s day: let’s work to open doors, not close them.
Curtin, S. C., Warner, M., & Hedegaard, H. (2016). Increase in suicide in the United States, 1999–2014. NCHS data brief, 241, 1-8.
Bilsker, D., & White, J. (2011). The silent epidemic of male suicide. BC Med J, 53(10), 529-534.
Psaltopoulou, T., Sergentanis, T. N., Panagiotakos, D. B., Sergentanis, I. N., Kosti, R., & Scarmeas, N. (2013). Mediterranean diet, stroke, cognitive impairment, and depression: a meta‐analysis. Annals of neurology, 74(4), 580-591.