Q: What kills more young British men than road accidents, murder and HIV/AIDS combined? A: Suicide. Moya Crockett investigates.
Suicide is the single biggest killer of young men in the UK. Three young men in Britain kill themselves every day. In 2012, there were 4639 male suicides – the highest annual figure in the UK this century. The death toll of suicide is 3-4 times higher in men than in women. The statistics are shocking, but what I found even more startling upon reading them was the fact that I had no idea. How could such a huge problem be effectively swept under the rug?
Silence surrounds depression and suicide, and this silence particularly affects men. It might be 2013, but ours is still a society that expects men to just ‘get on with things’. The message remains: if you’re feeling low, don’t make a fuss. Don’t be a girl about it. And definitely, definitely don’t cry. This stiff-upper-lip masculine ideal is incredibly pervasive. It’s not always the case, but men often lack the kind of emotionally supportive social network that women take for granted. “I’ve got one good friend who, when a couple of times I said I was going through a pretty bad time, said, ‘Well, any time you wanna talk about it mate, just let me know’ before immediately scurrying away to his bedroom and closing the door,” says mental health writer Fabio Zucchelli. “My friends are brilliant, caring guys, but just feel so bloody awkward talking about difficult feelings that they’d rather punch themselves in the face.” In this kind of culture, it’s not entirely surprising that young men would often rather suffer alone than talk about their feelings.
The continuing stigmatization of mental health issues doesn’t help. It’s human nature to search for explanations, but suicidal thoughts are by their nature incomprehensible to those who haven’t struggled with them. Horrible misconceptions whirl around suicide like flies: the notion that those who attempt to kill themselves are crazy, selfish, attention-seeking, or doomed is as horribly prevalent as it is untrue. In addition, the idea that we might not be able to control our own happiness – the concept of suicide itself – is deeply frightening. This toxic coupling of misunderstanding and fear leads to yet more silence, affecting everyone, including those bereaved by suicide. Many people who have lost someone to suicide report feeling unable to talk about it openly, the way they might have done had the cause of death been ‘natural’.
According to male suicide prevention charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), hundreds of deaths could be avoided if men felt able to talk more openly and ask for help when needed. Jane Powell, the charity’s founder and director, began working in male suicide prevention on a pilot project in Manchester in 1997. “We need to challenge the idea that a ‘strong and silent’ man is desirable, and challenge the notion that men talking, showing emotion and being ‘sensitive’ is weak,” she says. Powell is at pains to stress that people’s motivations for suicide are “complex and often very individual.” You do not have a reason to feel depressed; neither does having thoughts of suicide automatically mean that you are suffering from mental illness. Feelings of desperation and hopelessness can affect many people for many different reasons, and these feelings will often pass. It is when they don’t that being brave enough to seek help − whether that means calling the Samaritans helpline, visiting a GP, or just beginning to talk to a friend − becomes vitally important.
There is nothing inevitable about suicide, and it is never the only option. If you think you or someone you know – male or female – might be struggling, the most important thing you can do is begin to talk about it. Treat your mental and emotional well-being with as much care as you would your physical health, and remember: it’s fine not to be fine.
24-hour confidential emotional support for people experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicidal thoughts.
A UK charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide.
0800 068 41 41 (Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm and 7-10pm. Weekends 2-5pm)
Confidential and anonymous emotional support, provided by students, for students.
0161 2753983 (8pm-8am during term time)
UoM Counselling Service
Manchester’s team of professional counsellors and psychotherapists is available to all students.
C.A.L.M.’s website is brilliant – funny, relatable, relevant, and unpreachy.
0800 585858 (5pm-midnight, daily)
Students Against Depression
Advice, information, guidance and resource specifically aimed at UK students.
What to do if you think someone might be suicidal
The NHS offer clear, calm advice.
For a list of common symptoms related to depression visit www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Depression. Any of these feelings are worthy of your attention. If you haven’t already, register with a Manchester GP and book an appointment.