In this article, we look at the topic of male suicide, how to spot the signs, and tips on how to support someone.
Optimistically, we know that when someone takes the time to intervene and ask questions, lives are saved.
However, we also know that the statistics on male suicide make for uncomfortable reading:
- Suicide is the leading cause of death for men between the ages of 20 and 49
- Men are three times more likely than women to die from suicide
- Men are less likely to seek support with their mental health, and less than 40 percent of those who seek counselling and psychotherapy are men
There is a debate about what prevents men from seeking help with their mental health, and campaigns which seek to normalise men asking for help. But what else can be done to reduce male suicide?
Existing mental health issues are a major risk factor for suicide, but not everyone who experiences suicidal thoughts has spoken about their mental health to others or received a diagnosis.
How to know when someone is at risk
One useful approach when it comes to understanding male suicide is to become more aware of the life events which present a risk. These are events which also prevent men from meeting essential emotional needs.
Consider if you know someone who is affected by any of the following life events and risk factors. If you know someone who is affected by one or more of these events, it’s worth taking the time to ask how they are.
Loss of a job
Has someone you know recently lost their job, or started to worry about losing their job?
If so, a number of emotional needs may be affected. The person may be worried about financial security for themselves and their family. If they feel they have no control over events, this unmet need is a risk factor too.
Other emotional needs which may be at risk following job loss, include the need for status. Losing a job can make us feel like we have little worth in the eyes of others, or that we have failed people who depend upon us financially.
Another need which can go unmet following the loss of work is the need for meaning and purpose. This might be because their work involved supporting other people, gave them a strong sense of identity, or drew upon valuable knowledge and skills which had taken time to learn.
Losing meaningful work can make a person wonder what their purpose in life is.
Another risk factor is the loss of emotional connection following relationship breakdown, separation and divorce.
If this results in estrangement from any children from the relationship – which can be more likely to happen to men – the sense of emotional connection and purpose which comes from parenthood can be lost too.
A common pattern when men lose a relationship, is for them to also lose touch with the friends they shared with their ex-partner. They may then become increasingly isolated.
So, as well as the loss of an emotional connection, they may lose their sense of community, both of which present a risk of suicide.
If a relationship is lost to bereavement, including following suicide, this is a well-established risk factor which we can watch out for.
Bereavement following suicide presents a big risk, particularly if the bereaved feels guilty that they could have done something or missed the warning signs.
A little-known risk factor for suicide is poor quality sleep, and particularly insomnia and reoccurring nightmares. This is because negative thoughts and worries are not naturally reduced during sleep, and then carry over to the next day.
How can I help prevent male suicide?
If you know someone who has been affected by any of these events, or if you know someone who is not sleeping very well, what should you do?
The first thing is to make the time to speak to them and ask how they are.
Listen out for language which tells you that a person’s emotional needs for control and for meaning and purpose are unmet.
These are key risk factors for depression and suicide, which can be expressed in statements such as:
There’s no point going on
The world would be better off without me
I can’t cope with life any more
They may tell you that they are fine. But if you have reason to think that they may be affected with unmet emotional needs, don’t leave it there.
Ask again, telling them that you’re glad to hear them say they’re fine, but are they getting help with their current situation.
If they tell you that they have been having suicidal thoughts, it’s essential to ask them whether they have a plan to act upon them. If they tell you that they do have a plan, don’t agree to keep it a secret.
Whether they have a plan or not, encourage them to seek professional help with suicidal thoughts from a GP.
Make sure they have numbers for support services like the Samaritans, 116 123. And for non-crisis support in Suffolk – Suffolk Mind, 0300 111 6000.
Remember that it’s better to be a little embarrassed or uncomfortable asking these questions, than it is to miss the opportunity to prevent a suicide.
And remember, we know that when someone takes the time to intervene and ask these questions, lives are saved.
Support for male suicide
If you need support, Suffolk Mind is here for you. Contact our team, or self-refer for one of our services today. You can also take a look at our Help Directory for other organisations who may be able to support.