Study sheds light on why the male suicide rate is so high

depressed man male suicide
Support us and go ad-free

Bottling up emotions. Finding it hard to cry. Feeling ashamed about being depressed. Or embarrassed at the idea of reaching out for help. These are issues for many men. And the mental health effects of these attitudes need addressing. Male suicide is a growing crisis.

Every two hours, a man commits suicide in the UK. It’s the number one killer of men under the age of 45. Yes, a man under 45 is more likely to die by suicide than from any kind of disease, accident or at the hands of someone else. Some commentators have said that nobody knows why the male suicide rate is so high. But a new study tells us it may have to do with the masculine ideal of self-reliance.

Masculine norms

This study of 14,000 Australian men found that those who strongly identified with being self-reliant were significantly more likely to report suicidal thoughts.

Self-reliance is one of 11 masculine norms. Others include: a desire to win, risk-taking, dominance and pursuit of status.

As The Canary previously reported, the self-reliance norm may explain why so many men suffering from depression don’t seek mental health treatment. And not seeking treatment for depression sheds light on why so many men are taking their own lives. (Depression is the most common psychiatric disorder in people who die by suicide.)

Lead researcher Jane Pirkis highlights that it has everything to do with culture. She said:

Notions of masculinity aren’t just dreamed up by individuals, they are imposed by society from childhood in quite subtle ways. So if a sense of needing to be self-reliant is an issue for some men, and some women also, we as a society need to think about how we are bringing up our boys and girls. Even today boys are told not to cry and young men are told to toughen up.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

Self-reliance singled out

Authors found no significant correlation between suicidal thinking and 10 of the male norms. There was only a notable connection between suicide risk and men who strongly believed in the importance of self-reliance. These men had a 34% greater chance of reporting thoughts about suicide or self-harm. This held true even after controlling for other suicide risk factors, such as depression, stress, alcohol use and not having a partner.

Published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, this study used data from the largest longitudinal study of the health of men and boys in the world. Pirkis says that:

the large size of the cohort puts this study at the forefront of research linking a particular element of traditional masculinity – self-reliance – to suicide risk.

Researchers asked men how strongly they agreed with statements such as: “I never ask for help” and: “It bothers me when I have to ask for help”.

Pirkis stresses that self-reliance can of course be a positive thing for many men. But we also can’t ignore the grave risk associated with it either.

Some men are more affected than others

It seems that masculine norms may be affecting some men more than others. Recent findings show that the suicide risk in the UK is greatest for low skilled male workers. Construction workers kill themselves at a rate three times higher than the male average.

So it could be that some professions tend to reinforce self-reliance as a norm more than others. Ruth Sutherland, chief executive of Samaritans, said:

The more we know, the more we can target resources and support to those most at risk.

It’s easy to forget the immense power that language has. When boys and men are told to ‘man up‘ it transmits the cultural narrative about what it means to be a man. As we can see from this new study, being expected to ‘toughen up’ is a deeply harmful attitude. Culture can’t be changed in one fell swoop. But it begins at home, at work, with friends, and in social situations. Ultimately, though, it begins with being good to yourself and recognising when you need a helping hand.

Get Involved!

– If you want to speak to someone about any of these issues, contact the Samaritans by phoning 116 123 or by emailing [email protected].

– Visit CALM’s website for more information on male suicide.

Featured image via Pixabay

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us

Comments are closed