Imagine if every year around the world 800,000 whales washed up on the shores of our beaches. I wonder how many people and care organisations would come to the rescue. And I wonder just how much media attention would it draw. I’m quite convinced we would see endless news streams wondering about the plight of these poor creatures. There would be sympathy and grief from both men and women and scientists from around the world would be seeking answers to find out what motivated them to do it. Were they sick or was there something else behind it?
We know that marine scientists do work tirelessly to find answers to these complex problems of whales and marine mammals even though they aren’t in these catastrophic numbers. And we know that men and women are united to care about them in almost every country in the world.
Why then, do we not care about the astronomical rate of male suicide in the same way?
September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports approximately 800,000 people commit suicide every year. Since it is accepted men are on average 3-5 times more likely to take their own life than women, a conservative estimate of 75% being male means we lose approximately 600,000 men, fathers, sons, brothers, grandfathers every year, in something that should be preventable. For every completed suicide, it is estimated that at least 6 more attempt the process.
We often hear that suicide is due to depression. If this is so, then why aren’t anti depressants preventing suicide? I don’t have the medical answer, I’m just wondering. We know that men don’t speak out as much but I also ask, who is really listening when they do? So while I accept it as a given that suicide is often accompanied by depression, I question what else it is that we are missing.
WHO says the following:
While the link between suicide and mental disorders (in particular, depression and alcohol use disorders) is well established in high-income countries, many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis with a breakdown in the ability to deal with life stresses, such as financial problems, relationship break-up or chronic pain and illness.
In my experience in working with men, relationship break-up is the headline problem because it brings with it all the other issues such as stress, financial problems and even chronic illness. Recognising this massive societal problem and changing the way we treat men in our family courts would go a long way to reducing the devastating impact.
WHO also makes another pivotal finding
In addition, experiencing conflict, disaster, violence, abuse, or loss and a sense of isolation are strongly associated with suicidal behaviour. Suicide rates are also high amongst vulnerable groups who experience discrimination
Although completely unrecognised, there is no greater discrimination at the moment than the gendered discrimination of men. I don’t particularly care that this statement will seem outrageous to the women who believe the patriarchy is ruling our planet. Their disbelief is further proof of the ignorance about men’s issues and I defy any of them to find me services for men that are equal or even proportionate to women’s.
Jim Franghis, an Australian Veteran shared his thoughts about suicide.
There are two factors in my opinion. Firstly, isolation: the feeling that you’re the only one in your situation and that no-one else can possibly identify with what you’re going through. Secondly, the sense of there being absolutely no personalised support from any quarter. This usually is a reflection of the actual situation.
Jim had recently faced some tough and dark times. When he had reached out for services as a male victim of violence and abuse in his home, there were not one shelter or service that could support him as a man.
when I was in crisis in Wangaratta I was horrified to discover that there are no men’s crisis services for men in that location compared to 23 available for women.
I asked Jim what part he thought relationship breakdown played in suicide.
This is a difficult question to answer and presents a virtual double edged sword in as much as the failure of a personal relationship can be the tipping point which results in suicide. On the other hand the failure of a relationship especially if it is psychologically abusive can be liberating. Nonetheless in this instance whilst the spirit is being tortured by emotions the fuses are lit for suicide. The latter is my own experience.
With the average age of male suicide being around 44 years (this seems to be universal), relationship breakdown must certainly play a part in a large percentage of cases. If you care to look closely at this you see a number of issues for men in which it’s very hard to just ‘move on’. Issues such as; child custody, isolation from their children, financial hardship, homelessness, lack of support, feelings of shame, loss of friendships.
These issues strike at the core of the human soul. They can’t be fixed with positive thinking or being told to get on with things and man up. Many of them need systemic changes so that men know that we care about their outcomes too. A little empathy and recognition from our governments would go a long way to showing men that they are valued and respected in society.
There are very few services for men that understand or are prepared to address the unique issues men face. Men’s experience of the world is very similar to women’s in so much as they are vulnerable, they need connection and they need to feel safe. However we do very little to provide these things for men. They are for the most part, forgotten in the service and support sectors.
I spoke with Gavin Nicholson from The Toolbox Foundation. Gavin has suffered depression and was at one point suicidal and he started a foundation to help facilitate the shortcomings of the services currently available.
Gavin feels that what we currently provide for men who are suicidal is inadequate.
Although the amount of self help organisations are minute in comparison to the female equivalent, men need to be aware of the organisations and support groups that are out there. Men need to speak with men, I believe more effective outcomes would be achieved if the awareness of available services had blokes that have actually recovered from depression delivering advice to them.
We do not highlight the issue and the ripple effect that men’s depression causes in the community. There is only a hand full of organisations that deal with depression, I do not believe we have adequate resources to ensure the service is reaching the correct demographic.
Again, social opinion and stereotyping of men being tough and not talking about their problems needs to be changed.
I asked him about why he thinks men don’t speak out.
The social stigma that men don’t talk about their problems is the biggest hurdle that men’s depression and suicide prevention organisations have to overcome. Suicide is higher due to the short end of the stick that men receive, caused by the antiquated legislation of government systems that will not be changed due to the input of feminist groups and legislation that is designed and implemented without change for an excessive number of years.
He added that society needs to change it’s attitude towards men in general, not just in relation to suicide.
the importance of ensuring that men are alive and able to contribute to the community as a whole is very important. But if you look at services for men, it is truly insignificant to the point of being ridiculous.
Why do we care so little about men’s issues and the male suicide rate? If men were whales, there would be global outcry until we found a solution to this catastrophe.
Men are courageous, strong, brave and determined. They are often strategists because they are logical and rational thinkers. They are capable and determined and yet with all of these stoic capabilities they are immeasurably capable of love which I find incredibly admirable. Men feel loss, pain, and grief and disconnection, every bit as much as women do.
In the next 12 months, another 600,000 men will take their own lives leaving millions of children without fathers, parents without sons, and siblings without brothers.
Society needs these men. Let’s work together to do what we can to protect them, please.
All donations to support Jasmin’s work is gratefully appreciated.
Photo credit: Gold Coast Bulletin