“But he was fine!” – Why men suicide rates are so high?
Men’s suicide rates had been increasingly more and more worrying. The very recent statistics from all over the globe suggest that suicide amongst men is something we should start paying more attention to. For example, in UK men had accounted for three-quarters of UK deaths by suicide in 2018. Whilst in the USA suicides among men aged 35-64 years increased by 27% between 1999 and 2013. These rising numbers show definite neglect amongst adult age men and suggest that men are unevenly exposed to factors that are damaging mental health and enhances the suicidal thoughts that make suicide seem like the only solution.
“He was fine”
The suicide has a trait of taking the loved ones even when we don’t see it coming, sometimes it also feels like there were no signs. However, there are many signs that are frequently ignored as we treat them more like common emotional burdens rather than something that can seriously impact emotional wellbeing. What is written off as stress at work, worries of being a good father, family problems, or unpleasant life events are actually issues that can seriously affect the state of mind. Additionally, when negative emotions that are reactions to those stressful events are left untreated, they can very well lead to suicidal thoughts or even suicide. For example, the psychological autopsy that examined suicide reasons amongst men of ages 30 to 49 in Hong Kong found that being indebted, unemployed, or underemployed as well as living alone and feeling lonely are risk factors for suicide. What this means is that issues that affect daily life and add additional stress are not something that should be taken lightly.
Saying “he is fine, but has some problems” is not something that denies men the audience to speak up about their issues. And sadly, men are the ones who get exposed to ignorance more often. Factors such as big debt, issues with work and income as well as feelings of loneliness are all things that show that one is far from being fine and instead is exposed to overwhelming burdens. We have been so long ignoring men’s mental health and their stability that we forgot how stress is very closely connected to mental health problems – the feeling of being a bad father, pressure, guilt and many others are not just stress, it is a burden that needs to be dealt with. Those things are not something that should be taken lightly as it is not stressful situations but reasons that can lead to men committing suicide.
Society effectively disadvantaged men from getting support
Society has taught that certain traits are manly as well as certain responsibilities are burdens for men to deal with. It is perceived that men inherently are the providers of certain levels of support and that they have to fit into a certain frame. And this perception of “man’s burdens” is why factors such as underemployment or debt are reasons for suicide. Additionally, society fails men with a lack of mental health support and suicide prevention programs. Suicide prevention works in a way that it does not necessarily prevent suicide directly. Instead, it works to indicate the existing problems of various groups such as age, gender, education, income, and many others. Once the issues of a specific group are indicated, prevention programs are put in place to dismantle the reasons for suicide. But men as a group are somehow excluded from it. Suicide prevention efforts are very rarely focused on men and instead, all the efforts are usually aimed at either youths or adults over the age of 65. In return, men who for years could have been struggling with poor mental health, feelings of worthlessness, and thoughts of suicide rarely get the support services they need to help them during the crisis they are experiencing.
Dads and mental health
When we talk about middle-aged men it is important to include a very important group of men – dads. Fathers are an important part of society and should not be exempt from the suicide statistics or have their issues written off as to just experiencing men’s burdens. Many factors and emotions that come with dealing with the responsibility of being a father can be reasons for suicide. In the research on COVID-19 impact conducted by Dads In Business, it was found that about 60% of dads feel pressured and only 59% usually feel that they are great Dads. And whilst that statistics was to measure the change of those emotions before and during COVID-19 pandemic, one of the findings was that no matter how worse the response of emotional wellbeing got – it was already bad in the first place. The negative emotions fathers have reported on experiencing raise concerns about their mental health. These numbers come from being unable to manage responsibilities as well as not having enough personal time and not receiving appropriate support. Fathers themselves claim that the lack of support is felt very early on. In fact, even as dads are yet to become parents, 57% of them already feel emotionally unsupported about becoming a parent. And those who at the early stage feel like they are unprepared to cope with becoming a father have a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and feeling of failure. Those problems remain unsolved as there are almost no support services or organizations working on these issues. And it seems that the existing problem is not really attracting enough attention, leaving a lot of fathers feeling lost and vulnerable as well as isolated. It is no secret that becoming a parent means a lot less time and a lot more responsibility and isolation no matter the gender. However, the lack of support for men also is an issue for dads, as most of the mental health support for parents is aimed at mothers. What this follows to show is that many issues revolving about fathers becoming first-time parents and also dealing with responsibilities become an issue that can lead to poor mental health and at some point suicidal thoughts or actions. It is important to understand that issues that are often left ignored around working dad’s mental health can be the key factors that disable men from properly functioning in society.
Support and what can be done
The center for social justice had found that 78% of dads feel there is more support available to Mums than there is to Dads despite circumstances being the same. What we need to start with is having the conversations in society that are yet to exist. We need to pinpoint the problems that lead to poor mental health and start the difficult conversations to allow those fathers who feel they have to hide their feelings away to have a free space to talk about it. There are many ways support and suicide prevention can operate towards but it is very hard to work in the environment that never had conversations around the topic exist before. We believe that engaging in conversations with fathers who struggle emotionally is the first big step towards the development of coping mechanisms as well as finding yourself again.
Many men claim that they do not have a close friend or someone they could spend their free time with or talk about their personal problems. We believe that if we start discussion about this, we can see a big improvement in men’s mental health. However, in order to start the change, the spaces and forums that enable honest and open conversation about roles, responsibilities and pressures are needed. Dads In Business is the organization that works towards these goals and are here to provide the space and safe environment where fathers can talk about their emotional burdens.
Article by Simona Balkauskaite