WARNING: This blog contains references to suicide and suicidal ideation. There is support available and you are not alone. Please see the links at the end of this blog.
It’s International Men’s Day on 19th November. The theme this year (internationally) is “zero male suicide”. Too many men are dying too soon. And men – if you’re reading, which I hope you are… we need to talk.
In 2021, there were 5,583 suicides registered in England and Wales (10.7 deaths per 100,000 people) – this was statistically significantly higher than the 2020 suicide rate (10.0 deaths per 100,000 people). Around three quarters of suicides (4,129 deaths; 74.0%) were male – this is consistent with long-term trends. Suicide is the biggest cause of death in men under 50.
Some of us have no-one around us to talk to. But a lot of us will be surrounded by people, and it will still be difficult for us to turn to someone and have a chat when we know what we want to talk about is difficult. We are human. We take the path of least resistance. We avoid difficult situations where we can.
My story is one that will be familiar to a lot of men, particularly those who have been in difficult relationships or those that end quickly. Over ten years ago, my marriage broke down irretrievably. I moved from the family home to a flat with just my thoughts and some belongings. I had no-one to talk to, and even if I did, I was never going to say anything. Why would I burden anyone else with my problems? I didn’t know where to go or where to look. Living on my own, restricted access to my child, struggling to make ends meet, it all got too much.
I wrote a note and placed it on the table. I hooked up a belt above the doorway, climbed up, and braced myself for it all to disappear.
But it didn’t. I fell to the floor. All I had was that belt and there was nothing I could do to keep it from coming undone. I had failed.
Or had I?
When I look back now, I realise how lucky I was. I got a second chance, unlike many people who don’t. I found people to talk to. I didn’t become another statistic. I got access to my child. I found love. All these things that I would never be blessed with if what I’d tried to do had worked. And it makes me understand how important it is to start talking – to have those conversations – as difficult as they may be.
No-one knows what anyone else is going through at any given time. We all have our battles, we all put on a face, we all try to push on through. Male mental health, particularly in the UK, is surrounded by a huge stigma. Toxic masculinity suggests that men and boys are not allowed to show weakness, so when men and boys suffer from poor mental health, the default option is to bottle it up and try to get on with life.
But there are so many support groups and services out there that can help men and boys who might be suffering from poor mental health or who may be considering suicide. There is support that can help keep men and boys alive instead of just becoming statistics. The problem is how to access them, or how we signpost men and boys to access them. We need to start to make the ‘difficult conversations’ slightly less difficult.
Andrew Roberts, a young man just 23 took his life in 2016. His family, like many others, had no idea that he was suffering or struggling to the extent he was. Following his death, his family and friends set up ANDYSMANCLUB, a charity aimed at getting men to talk. From that first conversation, that one simple intervention, a life can potentially be saved. At ANDYSMANCLUB, men aged 18 and above can speak openly about their mental health in a judgment-free and non-clinical environment. Groups operate nationwide and are completely volunteer led, with most group facilitators having first interacted with ANDYSMANCLUB when they first came through the door themselves.
Looking back, I recall going to see my GP after my attempt. I explained that I was worried about my mental health. He pulled up a checklist on his computer, turned his screen around, and asked me some yes/no questions in an expressly clinical manner. One of them asked if I’d attempted suicide before. The system calculated my answers, gave him a score, and I was prescribed antidepressants and sent on my way.
Feel free to disagree, but I don’t think that’s the best way to deal with poor mental health, especially in men.
It can seem strange striking up a conversation with someone. I, for one, am terrible at small talk. But it needn’t be as difficult as we make it. All it takes is two questions. “How are you?” and then the inevitable, “No, really, how are you?” It can feel, as CALM so brilliantly describe, like “squeezing the last bit of toothpaste from the tube”, and we will squirm and we will avoid eye contact and we will mumble, but talking really can help.
None of us need to be a counsellor, none of us need to be medically trained, none of us are expected to have all the answers. But we can all listen, and sometimes that’s all that is needed. Start a conversation. Ask the question and then listen. A problem shared is a problem halved.
So go on… squeeze that toothpaste tube. #ItsOkayToTalk
You can access additional support, whether for yourself or someone you are talking to:
- ANDYSMANCLUB – andysmanclub.co.uk – free peer-to-peer support groups run around the UK and online every Monday at 7pm (except Bank Holidays).
- Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) - thecalmzone.net - run life-saving services and bring people together so they get help when they need it and don’t die by suicide.
- Papyrus - papyrus-uk.org - offering support to young people who are struggling to cope.