What Makes Men More at Risk of Suicide?
The statistics show that the majority of people who die by suicide are men
Dr Ana Mootoosamy urges men to seek help if they are struggling with their mental health
The Samaritans are available 24/7, on 116 123
The reasons for suicide are highly complex, and it is important not to generalise. However, statistics show that most people who attempt suicide are women, but men account for most deaths due to suicide. The statistics also show that women are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health condition, while men are less likely to seek help or therapy.
Why is that men are less likely to seek help for their mental health and how is this linked to suicide?
“Men are providers”
So perhaps let us start with the problem with why it might be difficult for men to seek help if they need it. There is a saying that the first time that a man receives flowers is most likely to be at his own funeral. Whether men want to receive flowers or not, is a separate issue – perhaps the wider issue is the gender role that men are raised to occupy, and how this might inhibit their ability to accept care or seek help when they might desperately need it.
The unwritten rules of society, are that men are the ones who are “supposed to buy flowers”, not receive them. Society expects men to be providers (for themselves and their families) and when they cannot do this, they might feel like failures.
Data suggest that during financial downturns, suicides increase and men might be at greater risk of suicide if they lose their job during a recession.
“Men are strong and silent”
Societal expectations are that women are “emotional” (which in of itself is a problem for women, but that’s a separate issue), and many men will have grown up feeling that they need to be strong and silent about their emotions.
Never talking about feelings and emotions, despite how they might drive someone to despair, might lead to a feeling of needing to self medicate – some men may turn to substances, such as drugs or alcohol, or maybe something like gambling, to help manage the pain and distress associated with their problems.
Addictions to substances may then lead to further problems, on top of the problems they were originally struggling with. Something like alcohol is a depressant, and long-term addictive use of alcohol may increase depression, and consequently, increase the risk of suicide.
In our everyday language, there are plenty of examples of equating being a man with strength, and being a woman with weakness (“grow a pair”, “stop being such a p--sy”). Again, this poses problems for women, but it also poses problems for men if they are struggling, because they may feel like they have failed as men.
Struggles with mental health remain highly stigmatised, despite efforts to destigmatise it. Even in a medical setting, men are less likely to report symptoms of depression, which might be why more women are diagnosed with depression. It is possible that some men might view a diagnosis of mental health illness as a failure of their masculinity.
“Therapy is for women”
At times it feels as though psychotherapy has been inadvertently placed as part of the 'wellness industry'; indeed, many people who perform massages or are experts in beauty products are called massage therapists or beauty therapists.
This may have had the unintentional consequence of alienating men, who may feel reluctant to do something that is aimed at women. It is important to reiterate that good quality psychotherapy is a healthcare treatment. Psychotherapy aims for lasting change, and is not a cosy chat.
However, the psychotherapy professions are dominated by women (both the therapists themselves and the patients we see). Everyone has their own preferences in whether they might want to speak to male or female therapist, but some men might feel like they would feel more comfortable talking to another man, as though only another man could understand how they might feel.
It is important to remember that the most important predictor of successful therapy is the therapeutic relationship between the patient and therapist, and not whether the psychotherapist is male or female.
There is no need to suffer in silence
If you are a man reading this, and if any of this is resonating, then please don’t be worried or afraid to seek help. It is important not to generalise about suicide, but one thing that is probably can be applied to all cases is the level of despair that one is feeling when one is having suicidal thoughts.
In all cases, suicide is a tragedy; the former Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said that suicides must be treated with the same urgency that any other major killer would be, which is something we can probably all agree on. There is no need to suffer in silence. Help is available, and psychotherapy is inherently confidential and non-judgemental.
For immediate help with suicidal thoughts:
In an emergency, call: 999
NHS (England), call: 111
NHS Direct (Wales), call: 0845 46 47
The Samaritans 24-hour helpline, call: 116 123