Understanding Male Suicide

Six men die from suicide every day in Australia, costing the country and estimated $13.75B. Emotionally the cost is immeasurable.

If you’ve never experienced suicidal thoughts, it can be difficult to understand how and why someone could kill themselves. Some people say there are three key factors that can lead a man to take his own life:

  • If he thinks he’s a burden
  • If he feels he doesn’t belong
  • If he has the ability and the means ‘to go through with it’.

This isn’t the only theory about why nearly 2,000 men a year take their own lives in Australia, but it’s a useful model to try and get inside the mind of a man at risk of suicide.

Marco Bellucci Flickr

MALE SUICIDE IS A GENDER EQUALITY ISSUE

Suicide is a gendered issue. In more than 99% of countries, men are more likely to die by suicide than women. In Australia, three times more men die by suicide than women and every suicide is a tragedy regardless of gender. With five men dying from suicide everyday in Australia, it is important to maintain a gendered approach that specifically targets men.

It’s important to note that men of all backgrounds are more likely to take their own lives than their female peers. Equally important is the fact that certain groups of men are at higher risk of suicide than others. Being aware of which men are most at risk can help deepen our understanding of how to Stop Male Suicide.

WHAT CAUSES MALE SUICIDE AND HOW CAN WE PREVENT IT? 

There are many different opinions about what causes the high male suicide rate in Australia. The solutions people propose when seeking to Stop Male Suicide, tend to depend on what they personally believe the primary cause is. One way to make sense of the complex mix of ’causes’ that different people highlight, is to consider that each opinion may provide us with a partial truth, that can help us get closer to the whole truth.

Here are some of the partial truths that can help us in our efforts to Stop Male Suicide:

Men’s Help-Seeking Behaviour

According to LIFE Communications, a National Suicide Prevention Strategy project managed for Department of Health by On The Line, one approach to trying to Stop Male Suicide is to address ‘traditional help-seeking behaviours in men’.

Not everyone agrees with this approach. Dr John Ashfield at the Australian Institute of Male Health Studies, for example, says: “The practice of blaming men for ‘holding in their emotions’ and ‘not seeking help’, and calls for changes to the traditional male role, sounds plausible but is, at best, lazy and simplistic”.

The Construction Of Masculinity

One way to try and make sense of men’s help-seeking behaviours is to explore the links between masculinity and male suicide. According to Ruth Sutherland, CEO of the UK suicide prevention charity, Samaritans: “Men’s desire to live up to the masculine ‘gold standard’ contributes to the devastatingly high level of suicide in men in mid-life”.

In Australia, research by the Black Dog Institute in 2015 found that ‘unhelpful conceptions of masculinity consisting of stoic beliefs and values’ contribute to men’s increased risk of suicide. Yet while it is easy to name masculinity as a possible cause of male suicide, how we use this perspective to Stop Male Suicide, may not be immediately obvious.

Male Friendly Services

One alternative approach to focussing on ‘traditional help-seeking behaviours in men’ and ‘unhelpful conceptions of masculinity’ is to consider why suicide prevention services are less effective at helping men access help and support.

According to the ‘National Guidelines for Male Suicide Prevention Design’, produced by the Australian Institute of Male Health Studies: “it is now widely recognised that programs that are well designed and targeted for male constituents, usually attain success”.

Professor John Macdonald, Director of the Men’s Health and Information and Resource Centre at Western Sydney University supports this view saying: “when practitioners are conscious of the need to be male friendly, the impact is very noticeable”.

Social Determinants Of Male Suicide 

While men of all backgrounds are at greater risk of suicide than their female peers, understanding which groups of men are most at risk can help us take a more targeted approach to male suicide prevention.

Broadly speaking, the social determinants of male suicide are the social and economic conditions that influence certain men’s increased risk of taking their own lives. This can include ‘identity groups’ such as younger men, men their middle years, men over 75, gay men, indigenous men etc. as well as men facing specific life circumstances such as unemployment, relationship breakdown, imprisonment, living in a rural community, homelessness and financial problems. Other factors that can increase risk include some mental health conditions and alcohol dependence or alcohol use disorders.

Developing out understanding of the factors that can place men at greater risk of suicide can help us to target interventions designed to Stop Male Suicide.

Changing The ‘Public Story’ About Men And Male Suicide 

For some people, changing the ‘public story’ about men, masculinity, manhoood and men’s issues is essential if we are to Stop Male Suicide. In the UK, for example, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), a male suicide prevention charity, has pioneered a drive to ‘turn male suicide into a national conversation’.

In Australia, LIFE Communications, the National Suicide Prevention Strategy project managed for Department of Health by On The Line, states the male suicide prevention initiatives need to “value men [and] acknowledge and celebrate men’s strengths and abilities and the roles they play in families and communities” rather than focusing on deficits and problems.

While it’s difficult to say whether changing the ‘public story’ about men and suicide can make a difference, clearly many people believe that changing the way we think about, feel about, talk about and relate to men and boys, has a role to play in helping to Stop Male Suicide in Australia.

Tackling The Stigma Of Feeling Suicidal 

According to Suicide Prevention Australia:  “The stigma of suicide has a profound impact on suicide prevention [that] restricts help-seeking behaviours for people who are suicidal….Suicide is often misconstrued as a ‘personal weakness’ or a ‘selfish’ or ‘cowardly’ act. An alternative and equally incorrect view is that suicide is not preventable and that those who…die by or attempt suicide are beyond help.

“A lack of compassion…in the community, and even within the medical and social professions, can reduce potential care avenues. Help-seeking is especially restricted for men … who value self-reliance and may therefore experience a sense of shame about needing help.”

As men are thought to be more likely to access support if it is considered culturally ‘normal’ for a ‘man like him’ to get help with the issue he’s dealing with, then addressing suicide stigma may have an important role to play in helping to Stop Male Suicide.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PREVENTION, INTERVENTION AND POSTVENTION 

Working to Stop Male Suicide involves three distinct approaches: prevention, intervention and postvention.

  • Prevention incorporates a whole range of activities designed to reduce the number of men who die by suicide
  • Intervention involves ‘stepping in’ and taking action to prevent a man at risk of suicide from taking his own life
  • Postvention involves helping men who’ve experienced suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts to heal and take care of themselves. It can also mean supporting those bereaved by suicide who may be at increased risk of suicide as a result.

THREE LEVELS OF MALE SUICIDE PREVENTION 

Broadly speaking, there are three levels of activity that can help us Stop Male Suicide:

Universal: These are any activities designed to benefit all men and boys by reducing their risk of suicide and making it easier for men to get help and give help.

Targeted: These are activities that are designed to focus on particular groups of men who we know are an increased risk of male suicide.

Individual: these are interventions direction an individual man who is known to be at high risk of dying by suicide.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Glynn Johnston says:

    Good reading about the differences we face in preventing suicide, why i say that is it gives me more hope that even through we don’t know all the reasons, the untrained person can still try to make a difference by just Listening.

    Like

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