What does it mean to be told to “man up”? To act masculine? To not show emotion? To not cry? To be strong for your family? To provide for them?
In 2016, there were 5,965 suicides registered in the UK. Men accounted for three-quarters (4,508) of these deaths.
In 2017, there were 5,821 suicides registered in the UK. Men accounted for more than three-quarters (4,832) of these deaths.
In 2018, there were 6,507 suicides registered in the UK. Men accounted for three-quarters (4,903) of these deaths.
Notice a trend?
The Office for National Statistics defines suicide as deaths from intentional self-harm (where a coroner has given a suicide conclusion or made it clear in the narrative conclusion that the deceased intended to kill themselves).
Suicide is complex and rarely caused by one thing. Many of us experience suicidal feelings in our life, but they are temporary, even if someone has been feeling low, anxious or struggling to cope for a long period of time. That’s why getting the right kind of support at the right time is important.Dr Elizabeth Scowcroft (Head of Research at Samaritans)
Suicide is a complicated thing to understand. This is because, unlike other things, there are no two cases that are alike. Whilst there are trends in the causes of suicide, each case has a unique story. Whether this be losing a job, and experiencing financial issues, losing a family member (by death or separation), experiencing mental health issues and not seeking support, a combination of these, or even none of them. The list continues.
But, why are men more at risk? In society, there is still an issue with masculinity. There is an expectation of men to be strong individuals that show no emotion. Instead of thinking of themselves, they are expected to provide for and look after their family. When seen crying, they are often viewed as weak and feminine. A society like this causes men to not talk about their feelings. To not seek help when they need it. The fear of being judged, if they were to talk about their feelings, drives many men to their deaths.
Whilst society is changing with time and becoming more accepting, we are not quite there yet. We need to redefine what it means to be a man. To show emotion is acceptable. It doesn’t make you feminine. In fact, it takes a lot of strength and courage to talk about your feelings with other people.
Women, on the other hand, seem to talk about their feelings all the time. Whether this be with a loved one, or with a professional, they are more likely to seek help. Just look at Instagram- it’s filled with women sharing their issues with mental health in order to encourage others to do the same. It is inspiring, but it needs to extend to men.
There has, however, been a growth in charities and movements that target male suicide:
- Alright Mate. As suicide is the single biggest killer for men aged under 45 in the UK, this movement encourages men to look out for each other. Rather than building it up, it hopes men will begin to talk to each other about any concerns that they may have. Whether this be small issues, like arguments at home, or larger issues, like mental health and suicidal thoughts.
- CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). This campaign seeks to offer support to men in the UK. They do this through helpline services, their website and their magazine. It hopes to challenge a culture that prevents men seeking help when they need it. They also campaign with media partners, brands and ambassadors to spread awareness of suicide.
- Movember. This movement looks at mental health through a male lens, focusing on prevention, early intervention and health promotion. They do this through education, promoting conversations and pressuring the government to understand the issues that men are facing.
- Men’s Minds Matter. This is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the prevention of male suicide by building psychological resilience and emotional strength. They provide a lot of information and support on their website for anyone who is suffering.
What are the government doing about it? In 2019, they released the first ever cross-government suicide prevention plan where they:
- Focused on social media and the latest technology in order to identify those at risk of suicide.
- Encouraged local councils to take action and put in effective suicide prevention plans for their area.
- Improve data to better understand the triggers that can lead someone to take their own life.
- Greater focus on addressing the increase of suicide and self-harm among young people.
- Asked social media companies to take more responsibility for online content that promotes methods of self-harm.
- £25 million in funding to address the specific needs of high risk groups, including middle-aged men.
- Ensured that every prison had actions in place to reduce suicide and self-harm.
More needs to be done in order to prevent suicide further, especially among men. Next time, instead of telling someone to “man up”, ask them how they are feeling. Whilst it may be a joke on your part, you do not know what that person is going through. Your comment may just tip them over the edge, especially if they were getting closer to talking about it. Instead, encourage healthy conversations because you might just save a life.