The male suicide crisis

Man Up is a three-part documentary series and social awareness campaign, hosted by Triple M radio personality Gus Worland, which aims to get to the bottom of the male suicide crisis, effect real social change and even save lives.

The show is male oriented. It’s about understanding why men suicide, from a male perspective.

Worland’s motivation comes from the loss of a close friend to suicide in 2006; a man who apparently had everything and never appeared anything but happy.

He is incredulous that suicide is the number one killer of Aussie men aged between 15 and 44. Not road accidents, or cancer, or heart disease. He is forced to ask the obvious, “Why don’t people know about this?” “Why aren’t we talking about it?”

The documentary builds on the findings of a recent study which identified four traits or experiences common among suicidal men

  1. depressed mood
  2. a personal value system emphasising masculinity and stoicism
  3. occurrence of stressful life events
  4. a tendency to withdraw, or avoid problems, to cope

(Final report:  “MEN’S EXPERIENCES WITH SUICIDAL BEHAVIOUR AND DEPRESSION” PROJECT   Beyond Blue)

The series provides an insight into Aussie men. One of the core ideas is that

Men are falling victim to their masculine beliefs

Australian men have an image of masculinity defined by physical toughness, self-reliance, and emotional stoicism. Regrettably, these traditional masculine values are unhelpful, and act as a barrier, preventing men from seeking help when they are struggling mentally.

Men with a mental health condition reported that having ‘masculine’ beliefs often meant they didn’t accept feelings or ask for help. So, when stressful events happened, they withdrew or attempted to numb themselves with alcohol or drugs. This avoidance and isolation tended not to improve problems but make them worse, pushing them further along the path towards thinking about suicide.

If you break it down further, there are three key elements.

  • Men don’t handle failure well

There is a huge amount of pressure on men today to achieve success in relation to body image, career advancement, wealth creation, positive relationships, and stable family life. Many men live with a generalised fear of failure. This fear is pervasive and causes symptoms (depression, anxiety, stress, addiction, and low self-esteem) and crises (affairs, divorce, unemployment, illness, and physical injuries).

Evidence of perceived failure is present in the combat soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or the despairing farmer who sees no answer to the mounting debt caused by years of drought.

A man’s self-worth suffers when he doesn’t achieve the expectations society places on him, whether the expectations be realistic or not. Unmet expectations can be a cause of great distress.

Men need to understand that failure is a necessary part of life. As one writer suggested, “Often, it’s how men ride out the bumpy bits of life that define them.”

  • Men struggle to express their feelings

Aussie men value mateship. Genuine friendships develop around common interests like sport or music. Men rarely show emotional intimacy with their male friends. They are unable to talk about personal issues because they’re not sure they can trust their friends with their emotions and they fear breaking their stoic image.

While 70% of men think their friends can rely on them for support, they often aren’t there to lend a hand when a friend is doing it tough emotionally, because they don’t know their mate needs help. Men need to open up before they spiral down. They need to understand that talking about their feelings doesn’t detract from their manhood.

  • Men don’t ask for help

Professor Jane Purkis is a Melbourne University psychologist and epidemiologist who has been studying suicide for decades. Professor Purkis’ research group found one defining characteristic of masculinity, self-reliance, is a key predictor of suicidal thinking.

A man who is self-reliant has a feeling of trust in his own efforts and abilities. He has the ability to depend on himself to get things done and to meet his own needs. As with many personal qualities, there are positive and negative outcomes.

It is generally accepted that men tend to put off getting any kind of help because they think they’re supposed to be tough, invincible, self-reliant, able to manage pain and take charge of situations. This can make it hard for men to acknowledge they have any health problems, let alone a mental health problem.

Some men choose to take their own life, rather than appear vulnerable or weak by asking for help. There’s still a long way to go to encourage men to seek the practical, emotional and professional support they need.

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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