The men in the UK are being killed off not by guns or drugs but by the culture that defines what it means to be a man. This is the hardest blog post I have ever written.
Why are men killing themselves?
It seems to me that the single leading cause of male death is the stigma against men having feelings. Tears, we are told, are for girls. Man up, they say. Stop being a baby, we are told.
How’s that working out for you?
Having feelings is taboo for men. It is about time we changed that. “Cheer up,” is not the answer to complex problems and deep and crushing feelings.
My struggle with pain
I’ve struggled with depression at various times in my life. As a teen, the answer was fags, booze, and parties. It didn’t really help.
As I got older and started encounter these things called responsibilities, I just got better at ignoring my feelings. It was not healthy. It did not help. All that did was drain the joy out of my life.
There have been chapters in my life when close friends and loving family would have almost certainly been sympathetic and supporting. Only I lacked any form of language to talk about what I was going through. The best I was able to express was “I’m a bit tired today.”
I did what most men do – I kept my head down and I struggled through things alone.
My daughter died – I was strong for everyone else.
I went through a horrible and painful divorce which could well have had my emotional distance as a factor. Did I talk to anyone? No, of course not. The closest I got was I showed an artist friend an abstract painting I had created as an outlet. We nodded in silent understanding and no more was said. He understood too but neither of us had any lexicon for talking about it.
Man, this article is actually really hard to write. Damn. The part with the statistics was so much easier to write.
Here I am heading for 42 and slap-bang in the centre of the most at-risk group in the UK. A generation with no words to talk about it. No words to use to ask for help. It is literally killing us.
Please reach out
I’ve not written this to gain sympathy. I probably would not know what to do with it anyway. I have written this to show other men my age, that you are not alone.
Having feelings is not a weakness. Feeling sad or low is not a lack of masculinity. Pain is normal but suffering in silence is not.
If you feel like things are hopeless, I beg you not to suffer alone. Reach out and talk to someone. As a person who has struggled with depression on and off for their entire life, I can tell you it does get better. Talking can help – a lot.
The Samaritans’ 24-hour helpline is 08457 909090.
If talking is too difficult, there is online support.
According to the ONS, around three-quarters of all suicides in 2016 in the UK were male. In one year 4,508 men killed themselves in the UK. That’s more than 12 deaths every single day.
According to the WHO, there is a killer men only that is significant enough to make the top 10 – suicide. Self-harm accounts for 99.3 per 100,000 population. In the WHO 15 to 29 age bracket, self-harm accounts for more male deaths than any other single cause. Our young men are dying by their own hand. By the time we reach the 30 to 49 age bracket the only reason self-harm is not the biggest killer of men is that heart disease kills more. What this masks is that men aged 30 to 49 are almost twice as likely to kill themselves as men in the lower age bracket. By 50 to 59, self-harm is the 6th leading cause of male deaths. Which at least suggest that those of us that survive that long are likely to carry on surviving.
According to The Samaritans’, the highest suicide rate in the UK was for men aged 40–44. That’s a demographic that I’ve recently moved into. I can tell you, it’s no picnic.
Be a true friend
We men are pre-programmed to always reply “yeah, I’m fine,” or “nothing to grumble about, it could be worse.” You can save a life by taking the time to listen carefully enough and find out if you mate really is okay or just saying they are.
We cannot lift the lid on this silent killer until we men start talking to each other. For those of us that have spent our entire lives not doing that, it is hard. Hard was never a reason not to do something.
We men are taught to value bravery. It is a brave and courageous thing when you admit that we feel weak and broken sometimes. I’m not saying that we need to talk about our feelings all the time; just that it should be okay to talk about them when we need to.
I have been laughed at my entire life for being a bit weird. That’s why I have no problem going first. My name is Matthew and sometimes I feel like my life is a yawning darkness of despair and misery, while other days are quite nice. How are you doing today?