This was previously published on Men’s Wellbeing.
The latest suicide figures have been released and, unsurprisingly, little has changed. Four times as many men commit suicide compared to women. This is true whatever age range is being considered. It is also true internationally. Wherever you live in the world, as a man you are four times more likely to end your own life than your female neighbour. So what is happening?
One key factor is that the people who kill themselves tend to be depressed or have alcohol issues. It’s not that women don’t get depressed or have alcohol issues; it’s more the way women choose to deal with these problems. Women are more likely to talk through their problems with a close friend or family member. This acts as a protective factor. If you can talk through your problems you not only feel less alone, but paradoxically, the problems don’t seem as bad, either.
Men, on the whole, are not as good as women about asking their mates for help. I see this all the time with the men I work with. They may be going through hell and grappling with really serious issues, but they wouldn’t dream of turning to their mates for support.
And this is crucial. If you feel alone with your problems, they can often seem insurmountable. Suicide seems more reasonable in these circumstances, as a way of ending the pain. Perhaps this is also why men choose more lethal ways of taking their own life than women, and succeed more often as a consequence.
Saying that men are more likely to commit suicide because they are less able to talk through their problems with their mates just begs a different question: Why don’t fellas talk?
At a biological level, testosterone starts killing off the social/emotional brain in men from only six weeks old. The testosterone surge at puberty, for many men, finishes the job off. As a consequence many men simply lack the ability to communicate effectively about their problems and needs. No doubt this has an impact on male subculture, which prizes strength over vulnerability and competence over failure. It’s unsurprising that many men, when faced with difficulties in life, feel they have nowhere to turn.
So what should you do if you are having suicidal thoughts and feelings? It’s really important you let someone know how you feel. I understand it’s difficult talking to friends and family, but they can often be the best people to turn to. If there is simply no one you trust, then turn to the professionals. Your G.P. is a good place to start, as is a therapist. Both will have heard men talk of suicide many times before, so you won’t be burdening them. If anything they will be concerned to hear how unhappy your life is right now. If speaking to someone face to face is too much to start with, ring the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90. They have decades of experience of helping men with their suicidal feelings.
At a broader level, we need to change the male culture of ‘toughing it out’. We may not be able to change the impact of testosterone on our brains, but we don’t have to accept indifference to our fellow men as desirable or acceptable. You can start to make that change yourself today. Start looking out for your buddies, and if they seem to be having a hard time of things, make the space for them to talk about what’s going on for them. You don’t have to solve their problems, and they may well turn the offer down, but simply knowing that someone cares enough to try can literally mean the difference between life and death.
In Canada and the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Image of sad paper person courtesy of Shutterstock