Male suicide: the silent killer
Updated: Nov 11, 2018
It's 2018 (almost 2019). The world is moving forward. Men have never had it better. We've been freed from those "real man", confining gender stereotypes where men are told to "toughen up" at any hint of weakness, vulnerability, or sense of failure. Thank God, that's all over! Oh, hold on... it's not.
It would seem that even now - maybe more than ever - men are trapped by stereotype. Gender conditioning to traditional and restrictive masculine standards still holds sway, whether we like to admit it, or not. Though societal expectations are inching forward, I would argue it is still not the norm for men to talk openly about feelings and emotions. How do I know this? Because if I had a $1 for every time a man sat in my office and told me that he shared his emotional life with no-one else - not his partner, not his mates, his family, literally no-one - I could retire now.
So, when men suppress or deny their emotional lives and have to deal with the wear and tear of life, they will inevitably lose control over their emotions, a lot of them aren't anywhere close to being equipped to deal with them. And that's not because they don't have the capacity, it's because they aren't used to reaching out, they aren't skilled up, or they feel like they should be able to transcend these skills. That's the conditioning. It's shame-based. Or even worse, because they've been taught that the only emotion that is acceptable is anger, so any other primary emotional response gets covered up by anger. Because men can't be sad or fearful, but they can be angry. And this puts men in danger of coming into contact with the criminal justice system, becoming violent in their relationships, and traumatising their kids.
But if you don't believe my Psychologist decade of experience, let's look at some hard data. In 2017, over 3000 Australians died by suicide. This statistic is shocking. What's harder to swallow is that 75% of these people were men. Suicide was the leading cause of death for young Australians aged 15 to 44 years. Of course, suicide is the extreme end of the large spectrum of mental health that we all exist upon. Everyone has their issues they are grappling with. Catching problems and recognising them early is key in recovering. But men aren't great at early intervention. It's my experience that men show up for treatment in crisis. They come only after a major incident where they've attempted suicide, are at the end of a long period of substance abuse, or their relationship has ended and they are at odds with their wife or can't see their kids. This makes recovery tougher because there's the issues to work through, and the big mess caused by the issues.
So, what's protective for men, and how can we increase our ability to be resilient in the face of major stressors. There are obvious things like a healthy diet, regular exercise, and limiting your alcohol intake. But what things, apart from showing up at my door, will keep a man on the track of good - mental - health?
Here's a few suggestions:
1. Find social relationships that are substantial and supportive. Find mates who you can do irreverent banter with, but also can listen without too much judgment. And if you've got a mate who knows how to laugh and cry, you're on a winner.
2. Establish a sense of control. Too often I see men who think they need to control everyone and everything in their environment. But the real action is finding a way to control yourself and your reactions to the world.
3. Find a sense of purpose. Stuff will make you happy for 5 minutes. Getting a real read on what is important to you, and contributing to the world in a way that is values-consistent is where the real action is.
4. You'd be surprised how many men I see who are obsessed with one-upping their partner, or winning some stupid argument over who said what to who when. If you really believe that your wife/mother/father/brother is really a malicious person who has it in for you, the real question is, "Why are you engaging in any relationship with someone you think is trying to harm you?" And if they really want the best for you, there is no trophy for winning an argument.
5. Find professional help that works for you, and find it early. Help-seeking works best as early intervention. It can work in a near crisis as well, but its easier when the problem is a mole hill rather than a mountain. And make sure when you reach out, you're discerning. Like any profession, there will be health professionals you will work well with, and those who won't be a good match.