Why do so many men in their forties take their own lives?
It is not a new claim that men are at a higher risk of suicide than women, but why so much so when they are in their forties?
Simon Jack, as reported in the BBC News today, has tried to find the answer to this since his father took his life 25 years ago aged just 44.
Simon’s research led him to discover that suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 50 with averagely, 100 men a week dieing as a result.
Simon hazarded a guess at why; relationship breakdown, children separated from them, work pressures, redundancy etc. All of these significant life events would heap stress onto individual of course. But Simon couldn’t pin his father’s death on any of these reasons. His life had not changed significantly; he was popular, had a loving wife and sons and was a talented man. These troubles would also be faced by woman, they weren't specific to men.
Research lead to discussions with the Samaritans, Simon wanted to know what in their 60 years’ experience they had found. Their research highlights a set of complex factors including; financial and emotional problems, personality traits, the challenges of mid-life and mental health.These issues are reported by the Samaritans as effecting just as many women as men, so why is it that more men commit suicide.
Prof Rory O’Connor, Glasgow University, has conducted many studies into the psychology of sucidical behaviour. Mental health has often been recognised as part of the causality. “We think that most people who die by suicide have a mental illness but less than 5% with a mental illness take their own lives.”
Simon wanted to know more about his father’s life in the months before his untimely death so he spoke with his mother. The stigma around suicide though had meant the topic of how his father died had barely been mentioned in the past 25 years.
There were reservations and a bit of reluctance but eventually his mother agreed to discuss everything. The conversations revealed affairs and financial problems – all of which had never been discovered or discussed until his death.
Simon went on to speak to other people who had lost men in their lives to suicide. It emerged that men were not willing, or not able for whatever reason, to discuss their struggles. Joe Ferns, executive director of policy at the Samaritans, says there is a difference in how a man is treated to a woman when they try to express they are upset. "If you come into the office and find a man crying at his desk, I suspect that the reaction of the people around that person is far more dramatic. People assume something really bad must have happened."
So can simply talking save lives Simon asked? Talking is not a sign of weakness or a sign you cannot cope and its time that men understood that this applies to them as much as any woman too.
Simon went on to find the mostly ‘manly of men’ to combat the idea of weakness in talking. Ian Knott, a rugby player at a professional level, openly discusses his experiences when he suffered a career changing injury and attempted to take his own life. He points out the problems with how men don’t open-up but he stresses how there is no shame in doing so. Ian gives regular talks now and shares his experiences in hope to inspire other young professionals to talk about what state of mind they are in at any time.
There is a poster in circulation at the moment from the charity CALM which resonates deeply in anyone affected by suicide; The Strong, Silent, Dead type.
No matter what this article finds all we can do is share and encourage conversation. Unfortunately, as pointed out by a complete stranger to Simon, ‘suicide is a conversation stopper, not starter.’
Simon concluded with; ‘For that to still be true about the biggest killer of men under the age of 50 is unacceptable and needs to change’.