Talking about suicide and mental health can feel pretty depressing (pun not intended). Young people are struggling more and more, and the number of suicides at universities are really concerning. But finally, we have something moderately positive to write about. The suicide rate of men in the UK is at its lowest since 1981. Yes – we’re at the lowest number of men taking their own lives in about 3 decades. In honour of this good news, today we’re looking at male suicide and the gender stigma that leaves so many men feeling hopeless.
This statistic means more than just suicidal men are getting help. It shows that we are starting to understand mental health better, providing the right style of emotional and psychological help and creating structures that actually work. So hopefully, this success is a sign of improving times across the board for those working though mental health issues. In 2015, 75% of all UK suicides were men, so maybe if we’ve evolved enough as a society to help them, there is hope for all suicidal people across the UK.
However, while the male suicide rate is going down, this does not mean that the problem is fixed, as The Pool noted this week – “we need to be vigilant“. Suicide is still the highest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK, which categorically should not be happening when there are brutal illnesses with no cure and the ability to get unhealthy food at every street corner. How is the biggest danger to men themselves, rather than grease covered food, terrorists or cancer? Surely we can do better.
Suicide can happen in a split-second when the demons you are battling win and you feel like there is no other alternative; so, it’s up to all of us to be there for every split-second and help show those considering taking their own life that there are always better options. There is always a way through the difficult times, and we should never underestimate the power of giving someone hope.
It’s hard enough for someone to talk about their mental health issues, as there’s a fear of being judged or not be listened to; but men also struggle to open up due to the embedded stigma about what it looks like to be a man. Men must be manly. But what does ‘manly’ look like? Men are expected to be some unholy combination of contradictory values, turning them into a mixture of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gaston from Beauty and the Beast and Homer Simpson. (Let’s take a moment to collectively shudder at what that man would look, act and smell like.)
Gender stereotypes mean that boys grow into men believing that they should not discuss their feelings in case they seem ‘girly’. ‘Real men’ are tough, play sports, drink beer and any other ridiculous preconception you can think up of. We tell our friends, family and coworkers to ‘man up’ but do we think about the damage those two words have? Because subliminally we’re saying: “Be like a real man and don’t show emotion. Bottle your feelings up. Weakness is wrong.”. This toxic masculinity needs to be stopped, and the drop in male suicides shows us that maybe the resistance is finally starting to win. (Cue mental images of Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill leading a team of soldiers to the headquarters of toxic masculinity. Which is probably a bunker on an island somewhere. Led by someone who looks like Jabba.)
Across the world there are so many campaigns to help men through mental health issues, from Hollywood actor Justin Baldoni’s TV series and website ‘Man Enough’ to British comedian Robert Webb’s book “How Not To Be A Boy”. Men who have a platform due to their fame are working to show us that men don’t have to be the stereotype. Men are complex individuals and should be free to show every part of their persona without fear or shame. The film, television and sports industries are working to set a better example for young boys and men, with fan-favourites Ryan Reynolds, David Harewood, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Stephen Fry and Freddie Flintoff opening up to the world: proving that men come in all shapes, sizes and emotions. Plus let’s not forget good old Prince Harry, setting the example that even men in line for a throne are human.
There are also so many brilliant organisations set up to help men through their mental health issues, so that they do not feel alone with their troubles. CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) don’t just work to be there for men of any age who are in crisis with a helpline, online chat and website; they’re also determined to change a culture with their campaigns for #ManDictionary (showing the important of linguistics in the fight against male suicide) and #BiggerIssues (encouraging the public to give male suicide the attention it deserves). Even in the era of #MeToo and a stronger female voice, men are fighting back too. It’s now up to us to listen to what they have to say; and maybe then our blind assumptions about masculinity will end and male suicide rates will continue to drop.
Anyone struggling with a mental health issue where they begin considering suicide, whether they’re male, female or purple dinosaur (we all know Barney has issues), deserves all the support possible. And that starts with the stigma about what a man looks like. So next time, maybe take a leaf out of Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates’ tool-kit and “Girl Up”. Let’s start rethinking what men, women and purple dinosaurs ‘should’ look like and maybe then we’ll win the battle against mental health and suicide.
By Elena Jones, Marketing Executive at One Stop Social.