Why Our Suicide Prevention Strategies Are Failing To Stop Male Suicide

By Glen Poole

Suicide kills six men a day in Australia, with men and boys being three times more likely to take their own lives than women and girls. As closing the gender suicide gap in Australia would save the lives of nearly 1,500 men a year and save the economy and estimated $8.7B, we can and must do more to Stop Male Suicide.

Tomorrow, on World Suicide Prevention Day (10th September 2016), the Stop Male Suicide project will release the first edition of a new book called “You Can Stop Male Suicide”.

The book provides a simple guide for anyone who is committed to tackling the complex issue of male suicide. We want to make it easier for everyone who wants to make a difference to take action to Stop Male Suicide in Australia.

In the book, we set out seven simple steps we can all take and in this article I’m going to focus on step seven, because it is the one step that I believe could make the biggest difference to stopping male suicide in Australia.

https://stopmalesuicide.com/book/

Step Seven is “Knowing The Strategies That Can Stop Male Suicide”.

I chose the word “knowing” carefully. I could have said “Implementing Strategies That Can Stop Male Suicide”, but few of us have the power and authority to do this. One of the key messages of the book is that stopping male suicide is everyone’s business. So the reason for including this important step is that even though most of us don’t have the power to “implement strategies” if we can increase the number of people who “know” what strategies work, we make it more likely that one day, those with the power to make the biggest difference, will put these strategies in place.

Often suicide prevention strategies are too complicated and confusing for most people to understand or remember in detail, so while I acknowledge that male suicide is a complex issue, I’ve worked hard to identify effective strategies to stop male suicide that we can all remember and understand.

So here are three simple strategies that can help us stop male suicide in Australia in just ten words that everyone can remember:

  1. Tackle Men’s Issues
  2. Help Men Get Help
  3. Stop Male Suicide

Is Stopping Male Suicide Really Simple?

If you think that’s a bit too simplistic, don’t worry, I’ll expand on those ten words in a moment, but first let me explain why our suicide prevention strategies need to change. According to a review of suicide prevention strategies by the psychologist and suicidologist Dr David Lester, women are more likely than men to benefit from all of the main strategies currently used to prevent suicide.

Let me give you an example. We know that people who have attempted suicide in the past are at greater risk of taking their own lives, so it makes perfect, strategic sense to target suicide prevention resources at people who have previously attempted suicide.

However, the majority of people who are known to have attempted suicide are women and while nearly half (44.4%) of women who die by suicide have a history of previous attempts nearly three quarters (72.3%) of men who die by suicide don’t. Therefore it should be obvious to everyone that this strategy is going to be more effective at stopping female suicide than stopping male suicide.

So does this mean we should stop trying to prevent people who have previously attempted suicide from taking their own lives? Of course not, but what it does mean is that if we want to stop male suicide, we need to put more time, money and energy into strategies that are more effective at stopping male suicide.

So back to our three point, ten word, strategic approach to stopping male suicide. What   do I mean when I say we simply need to: tackle men’s issues, help men get help and stop     male suicide?

STRATEGY ONE: TACKLE MEN’S ISSUES

According to the Australia Men’s Health Forum, “Australian males are bereft of administrative structures in any State” to help us take a strategic approach to tackling the problems that men and boys face. We know that alcohol, violence, unemployment, social disadvantage, separation and mental disorders can all increase suicide risk. We know that men are:

  • Twice as likely as women to have alcohol disorders
  • More likely to be victims of male or female violence
  • Exposed to a tenfold suicide risk when unemployed
  • More likely to be homeless, imprisoned and educated poorly
  • Four times more likely than women to suicide when separated, with dads facing particular risk
  • Less likely to be helped by mental health services

If we want to stop male suicide in Australia, we need to take more action to tackle these “men’s issues”  (sometimes called “social determinants”), that are known to put men on the path to male suicide.

STRATEGY TWO: HELP MEN GET HELP

As previously discussed in our post “Making Sense of Male Suicide In Australia”, the pathway to suicide takes men from having problems, to trying to fix problems, to trying to cope with problems, to seeing suicide as a solution to their problems.

There is no doubt that if we want to stop male suicide, we need to help more men to get help with the problems that can lead to suicide. There is heaps of evidence to show that if we change the way we give help to men, we increase the number of men who get help.

Improving the way we give help to men isn’t just about transforming the help-giving services already on offer, though this is a major part of the solution. It’s also about everyone making it their business to stop male suicide: schools; workplaces; sports clubs; faith groups; community groups and so on.

Support groups like Dads In Distress, for example, have been shown to reduce suicidality among separated dads. If this is the case (and we know that separated fathers are at increased risk of suicide) then we need effective support groups for separated dads all over Australia.

STRATEGY THREE: STOP MALE SUICIDE

How do we create more opportunities to intervene and prevent the men who are at highest risk of suicide from taking their own lives?

According to Dr David Lester, everyone working in suicide prevention needs to consider how their strategies  apply to men. Realistically, we can’t hope to stop male suicide, if we don’t consider the specific needs of men and boys.

Six of the nine suicide prevention strategies recommended by the systems approach to suicide prevention involve training and raising awareness in schools; amongst journalists and broadcasters; for frontline staff; for General Practitioners; for community gatekeepers and with the wider public. While here is some excellent suicide prevention training available in Australia, one thing that is almost  entirely missing from all of this training, is any kind of focus on male suicide prevention.

If we want to Stop Male Suicide, we don’t just need mental health programs for children, we need mental health programs for boys. We don’t just need to raise community awareness of suicide, we need every community to be aware of male suicide. We don’t just need to train frontline staff and GPs and community gatekeepers about stopping suicide, we need to train people to stop male suicide.

By reading this article, you have already taken action to increase your own male suicide literacy and improve your knowledge of male suicide prevention. Thanks for taking time to find out more about strategic approaches to tackling male suicide. If you’d like to do more to Stop Male Suicide here are four actions you can take to help us do this:

https://stopmalesuicide.com/book/

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