September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and it’s time to confront the underlying issues that drive thousands of people, particularly men, to take their own lives prematurely.
Across the globe, suicide primarily affects men. Data from the World Health Organization shows that suicide is the third leading cause of death among men aged 15-29. In recent years, the same epidemic has been affecting men aged 40-65. Middle-aged men are now considered one of the most high-risk groups for suicide. They are three times more likely to commit suicide than women of the same age.
While it’s accurate that suicide can result from a treated or untreated mental illness, only a minority of those with diagnosed mental illnesses attempt or commit suicide. Additionally, men are less likely than women to experience common mental health problems, but they still commit suicide at a higher rate. For this reason, health policy experts have concluded that suicide in men is not just a mental health issue, but a social issue.
Societal pressure has a significant impact on the male suicide rate. Men face intense pressure in several social categories for reasons that are economic, cultural, or familial. The most prevalent issue, and most attributable to all categories, is the notion of toxic masculinity or ‘traditional masculinity.’ That’s the idea that men must adhere to standards of hyper-masculinity: being assertive, emotionless, physically superior, and strong.
Suicide has statistically been most common among men aged 15-29, but the rate of middle-aged men who commit suicide is beginning to catch up. Middle-aged men are struggling to find their place between two contradicting generations, according to a study by the Samaritans charity. Their position between a traditional older generation and a younger, more progressive generation leads them to struggle with major social changes and choices.
When faced with these issues, men have more difficulty seeking help. The Samaritans charity reports that men only use emotional literacy services like therapy or counseling, and often turn to hard alcohol or drugs in order to cope with feelings of depression or thoughts of suicide. The repression of those emotions is said to go hand-in-hand with traditional masculinity and the standard to appear unemotional.
Prevention is possible if the root of the problem is confronted. That begins with supporting and accepting men in ways that rarely exist today. This includes validating men’s sexual trauma, fostering environments that accept fluidity in men, and encouraging them to seek healthy coping mechanisms for emotional or mental trouble.