Suicide prevention and mental health awareness: why we should encourage men to talk
*Trigger warning – suicide*
In 1994, I went to the cinema with my husband to see the film adaptation of the John Grisham novel, The Firm. I don’t remember too much about the starring cast and the premise of the entire storyline or maybe I have just chosen to forget. However, a scene near the beginning, depicting two boys witnessing a man seated in his car attempting to take his own life by piping exhaust fumes into the vehicle, had a profound effect on me. Sitting in the darkness of the auditorium it made me wonder, perhaps rather naively, why this fictional character hadn’t been able to talk to someone about the difficulties he was experiencing. It was, of course, a dramatic opening narrative of cinematography to gain the attention of the audience.
One year on, in December 1995, this image became my reality when my husband, who was 36 years of age, took his own life in exactly the same way. There was no indication that he was considering doing this, but I later I found out that he had planned everything in detail, having bought piping, alcohol and pills and then driven to a secluded area along the Tyne Valley in the north east of England.
The legal and statistical aspects of suicide
The Suicide Act (1961) decriminalised the act of suicide in the UK, but often the word “committed” remains in everyday conversation. Nevertheless, I would argue that the application of the word “committed” is disparaging because it suggests that my husband, and others like him, have committed a crime. I do remember that after his death lots of people naturally offered their condolences to other family members and myself. Although, some felt the need, for one reason or another, to also include their opinions that “suicide is the coward’s way out” and “that suicide is a selfish act because there is no thought given to those left behind”.
Statistics reported by the Mental Health Foundation (2019) relating to death by suicide in the UK for 2018 was 6,507 deaths – this equates to 11.2 deaths per 100,000 people. Men accounted for three-quarters of these deaths, showing a higher level of suicidal intent and often by more violent methods than women.
Societal expectations and gender stereotypes particularly applied to men where they are viewed as competitive, strong, and successful, adds to a toxic mix of not encouraging and empowering men to admit that they are struggling with their mental health. This often starts in childhood and the lack of engendering in effective communication between parents and male children, with dismissive remarks such as “boys shouldn’t cry” and expressions of a lack of emotional control often being viewed as a sign of weakness and subsequently suppressed. As men grow older these underlying emotions can often manifest in drug and alcohol abuse, as well as an overall deterioration of mental wellbeing.
Mental health resources for people seeking support
For people seeking support who feel that they are not able to talk to family, friends or colleagues, organisations such as The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), Samaritans and Papyrus (prevention of young suicide), offer free confidential helpline access to anyone wishing to explore how they are feeling.
Bereaved by suicide
In addition, there are several UK-based organisations which offer helpline contact and additional information for those who have been bereaved by suicide such as Support After Suicide Partnership (SASP), Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SoBS) and Cruse Bereavement Care.
After my husband died I became involved with Cruse Bereavement Care in the northeast of England. Initially in 1999, I joined a team of dedicated volunteers in setting up a new branch covering the local authority areas of: Newcastle, Gateshead, North and South Tyneside. I undertook training in listening and counselling skills and subsequently became a Trustee and then Branch Chair. My involvement with Cruse was rewarding and lasted for over 9 years. It laid the foundations and formulated my understanding of encouraging, listening and supporting those who simply need to talk which I have been able to carry through into other aspects of my professional and academic careers.
“The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.” – Alfred Brendel
Let’s try to listen to the men in our lives and encourage them not to be silent.
At Digital Bricks, we offer training courses in Suicide Awareness so please get in touch if this is of interest to you.