Suicide in men is one of the greatest problems of our time and yet one of the least talked about topics. What many don’t realise is that suicide is the leading cause of death in men under 50 despite the fact twice as many women get diagnosed with depression. Just have a little think about those two facts for a few seconds. It’s not cancer, or road accidents, or some other topic the media loves to run with like global warming that is killing men, it’s suicide.
The trouble is that ‘suicide’ and ‘mental health’ aren’t sexy topics that the tabloids can print on their front pages with some terrible pun of a headline to churn out copies. They want stories that sell. They want to talk about Trump’s hair or Kim Kardashian’s latest nude selfie, and all the while the male suicide rate sits quietly in the background, as big a problem as ever but overshadowed by the irrelevance that gets printed and Tweeted. But this isn’t a problem that we can simply sweep under the rug and let it be dealt with by someone else.
The problem is with masculinity. Men are traditionally, and archaically, seen as the ‘breadwinners’, the strong ones who support their family while the ‘stay at home mother’ looks after the kids. But life just isn’t like that anymore. While there are still issues of inequality throughout the world, we see women striving to break through the stereotypes in place by achieving great things, but we don’t see this same commitment from men to opening up.
Very few men like to admit their feelings or emotions or show any sign of weakness. They fear that once they open up they will be seen as less masculine and weak. They’re thinking like the primates we once were; “Who will want to marry me if I talk about my feelings?! Does talking about depression make me a woman? Does writing about my own experiences with suicide make me any less of a man?" Of course not, and the people who think it does need to pull themselves out of the time warp from 600 years ago and get with the 21st Century.
Suicide needs to be spoken about on two fronts.
Firstly, the media. The media loves talking about the Zika Virus, or Ebola, or whatever other Walking Dead-esque disease it is that they can scare the population with. I’m not saying these issues aren’t important, but more talk about suicide could have a huge impact. This doesn’t mean giving a newspaper column to any “I was on TV once, please listen to me, please!” ‘celebrity’ like Katie Hopkins who, despite never suffering from depression, once wrote on the topic that “People with depression do not need a doctor and a bottle of something that rattles. They need a pair of running shoes and fresh air”. Ah damn, if only I’d bought a new pair of running shoes I could have saved myself two years of depression, thanks Dr. Hopkins! It’s not okay that people with a large platform are allowed to comment on issues they have no understanding of, especially when these are issues people are physically taking their own lives over.
Secondly, we need to have a bigger conversation amongst ourselves. Let the men that you are friends with know that they can be honest with you, about anything, and it won’t change your relationship. If your sole aim in life is to be a group of ‘top lads’, know that this is still possible by being open and emotional. Being honest about what you’re going through makes you so much more of a man than you may know, because it takes real courage to stand up and say something when the chips may be stacked against you. If we start a greater conversation around suicide, do away with the stigma and let men know that it’s okay to admit how they’re really feeling, they will seek the help they need. We all have a responsibility to tackle the silence that leads to suicide.
If you’re struggling, open up to someone. Suicide and depression feed off the secrets, and one conversation can kick-start recovery in a way you might think impossible; it did with me. And if you know someone who has or may have depression, don’t be afraid to talk about it – it could save their life.