The silent killer: Male suicide

Male suicide rates are the highest since 2001. 
But why are so many men dying for help?

There is a silent killer that is sweeping through the nation, claiming the lives of British men. It isn't coronary heart disease. It isn’t cancer or respiratory disease.

It’s suicide.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) have revealed the rate of suicides among British men is the highest since 2001, making it the leading cause of death for men between 20 and 34 in England and Wales.

In 2013, there were 6, 708 suicides across the UK and ROI. Whilst 1,375 of these were women, a shocking 4,858 of these were men, representing 24% of deaths out of that whole year.

Statistics have shown that this is a problem for males of all ages. The suicide rate among men aged between 45 and 59 in 2013 was 25.1 per 100,000, which is the highest it has been for this age group since 2001.

With this silent killer on the rise, it is evident that British men are clearly in crisis.

But why is this number so high and what can be done to reduce it?

According to Dr Nick Caddick, researcher of men's health and masculinities at Anglia Ruskin University, the suicide rate among men is currently so high because men are unable to talk about their feelings due to societies expectations of the way they should behave.

"With regard to societal stigma around men's mental illness, many of the problems stem from the notion of what counts as dominant masculinity."

Dr Caddick claims that this can lead to men bottling up their feelings and not going to the doctor if they think that they are suffering from a mental illness for fear of not appearing “masculine".

"Dominant masculinity means the most prized and respected way of being a man at a given time in a given society or cultural group."
Quote: Dr Nick Caddick
Image: Flickr

According to Dr Ken Harland, lecturer in Community Youth Work at the University of Ulster and co-director of the Centre for Young Men's Studies, stigma and discrimination are the greatest barriers to preventing men with mental health problems from seeking help.

Dr Harland believes that whilst families, schools and local communities are often deemed as safe environments where young people are supported and valued; this is often not the case.

"In reality, these settings are often hostile environments that leave many young men feeling marginalised, threatened and needing to prove to others they match up to masculine stereotypes." 

He claims that these “masculine stereotypes” include young men being dismissive of their emotional pain, and the reluctance of young men to admit they have problems and waiting a long time before seeking help.

"Male gender roles force young males to reject as feminine a wide range of characteristics that are simply part of normal human behaviour.

“This means that many young men grow up believing they should not, indeed cannot, display certain emotions in public, forcing them to keep their emotions private," says Dr Harland.

The idea that men are reluctant to seek help due to the stigma attached to mental illness is also shared by Elise Pattyn, sociological researcher at Ghent University.

Following her research, Elise noted that there is a gender gap in mental health service use.

Whilst in 2014 women used 69% of mental health services, men made up just 31% of the visits to mental health professionals. 

She says, "Men are more likely than women to choose to deal with mental illness on their own and to rely on self-care options, in part because they do not want to end up in a subordinate relationship to a health care provider."

Elise also believes that men do not tend to disclose their mental health problems as they may feel that they have failed or ashamed of their so-called weakness.

Mental health is a topic that is important to 24 year old student Alex Mackay.

His brother, Reuben, suffered from schizophrenia and paranoid delusions for many years.

Hear his story in the video below. 

Reuben was sectioned on a mental health ward when he was 19 years old, and was allowed to come home in March 2015.

Unfortunately after he left the ward, Reuben's schizophrenia and paranoid delusions returned.

Unable to cope with his state of mind, Reuben attempted to take his own life by jumping off a building. This resulted in serious spinal injuries, with Alex fearing that his brother would be wheelchair bound for the rest of his life. 

Although he is still receiving treatment in hospital, Alex thinks that his brother is one of the lucky ones as he is now learning to walk again and his mental health has significantly improved. 

Alex believes that society's attitude towards male behaviour attributed to Reuben's mental health problems.

Watch the video to find out what he has to say.

Whilst Reuben appears to have overcome his demons, other men have not been so lucky.

Stephen lost his son Ian in 2011 after he took his own life aged 35.

Stephen believes that his son first started showing signs of depression in 2000 when he was 24 years old, and says his son's spells of severe depression and suicide attempts were triggered by certain things in his life.

"Ian tried to take his own life three times, the third time he managed to do so.

The first time Ian attempted to take his own life was due to his inability to get meaningful employment. Ian then attempted suicide again when he lost his job, and ended up taking his own life after the breakdown of a year-long relationship."

Although Ian was clearly in mental turmoil, Stephen says that his son wore a mask behind which he had bouts of serious depression.

In fact, felt like he had to hide his depression so much that out of the 250 attendees at his funeral, only half a dozen of these people were aware of his mental health problems.

"He had the self image of a male who thought of himself as wanting to be an alpha male, and the difficulty in establishing himself in this expectation may have been hard."
Quote: Stephen
Image: Flickr

After his son's suicide, Stephen sought support from his local Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBs) group.

However, after noticing that the groups were predominately female, he decided to set up the SOBs Engaging Men Project to encourage other men to share their experiences of bereavement.

After carrying out extensive research, Stephen found out that men are more likely to talk shoulder-to-shoulder rather than when they are facing each other.

He has designed the project’s activities around this concept, with Stephen recently organising a trip to watch the rugby World Cup at Cardiff's Principality Stadium

“Once you engage men in casual conversation, they often drop in and out of talk about their experiences and feelings,” Stephen reveals.

"It is about bringing something positive out of a negative situation."

This positive experience of support groups was also experienced by 22-year-old Nick Sutton.

A third year history and politics student at the University of Exeter, Nick first experienced problems with his mental health when he started university.

"I had a very settled home life and had just started a relationship and could not cope with many of the pressures that a new university can bring," reveals Nick.

"I hid myself away, stayed in my room, had dramatic mood swings and over three weeks lost over a stone in weight. Before I knew it, I had become depressed."

To start with, Nick denied that there was a problem. However, when he eventually sought help from his friends, he noted that there was far too much social shame preventing men from getting help. 

Nick was made to feel that men should not experience such feelings and that extreme emotions were something that only females dealt with.

Nick's unhappiness with the support his received from his friends led him to join Mind Your Head, the University of Exeter's mental health awareness society, as he believed that the perception of mentally ill young men needed to change.

Despite the society having significantly more female members than male, Nick is trying hard to promote male aspects of mental health at different events that the society holds.

However, Nick believes that much more needs to be done to address the issue of the stigmatisation of men who have mental health issues.

"We need to make this a political issue. We need every local authority in the UK to devise a suicide prevention strategy particularly aimed at men to reduce the suicide rate in the UK.

“We also need a massive destigmatising campaign nationally backed by government to highlight to guys the shocking suicide rate in the UK and to encourage guys to be more open emotionally and to seek help if they are struggling," Nick explains.

"I hid myself away, stayed in my room, had dramatic mood swings and over three weeks lost over a stone in weight. Before I knew it, I had become depressed."
Quote: Nick Sutton
Image: Flickr

Alongside support groups, many men seek help from counsellors.

Angela McMillan works at T.W Counselling in Cardiff and has been a counsellor for 10 years.

Find out about her perception of male mental health issues and the ways in which she helps men in the video below.

With the suicide rate among men continuing to creep upwards, when will society finally realise that boys do indeed cry?