Why men struggle to open up about suicide despite its fatal consequences
Men talk 'shoulder to shoulder' rather than face-to-face about their mental health.
In Canada, suicide is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 44. In the UK, men account for three-quarters of suicides. When Hong Kong experienced economic turmoil in the 1990s, the suicide rate of men aged 30 to 59 almost doubled. After 2007, as recessions took over Europe, male suicide rates also spiked.
Men, according to doctors, are probably at greater risk of suicide because they still struggle to talk about their mental health. Keeping silent often means men are unable to deal with their issues and are much more likely to commit suicide because their worries overwhelm them.
In the UK, one in three men feel they cannot talk to their friends about their mental health, according to Gerard Barnes, CEO of Smart TMS. (TMS stands for transcranial magnetic stimulation, a new treatment that uses magnetic pulses to stimulate the brain and relieve symptoms of mental health conditions.)
A UK government health survey in 2017 found that 39 per cent of UK men feel less confident than they once did, one in three men feel more social anxiety than they used to feel, and 27 per cent of men regularly cancel plans to avoid interaction with others.
The UK’s mental health epidemic, Barnes says, has been widely publicised, with many prominent figures speaking out about their experiences with mental health issues. “However, while many of the same difficulties are experienced by both men and women, some difficulties and influences on mental health born of societal expectations may be especially detrimental to men,” he says.
Why, though? For men, societal expectations about how they “should” behave and what masculinity is, reinforce the idea that men should be the breadwinners of their family, while exhibiting strength, dominance and a “just get on with it” attitude, Barnes says.
Minal Mahtani, founder of OCD and Anxiety Support Hong Kong, a registered mental health charity in Hong Kong, agrees that “men are less likely to talk because of how they feel they are going to perceived”.
Gay and bisexual men are more vulnerable to mental health disorders than heterosexual men, she adds. She also agrees that risk factors for poor mental health in men include feeling overwhelming responsibility for family, difficulty with work or finances, a relationship breakdown, or significant trauma or setbacks.
“Many men believe they have to tough it out and struggle alone,” Mahtani says.
“Culturally, it is believed that men must not show their emotions as it is a sign of weakness. In Asia, mental illness is sometimes viewed as a choice and denied as a real condition, making it harder for men to seek help for this real medical condition.”
Rob Stephen, former chairman of Irish mental health charity GROW similarly articulates concern for mental health among men ” Ireland has one of the highest rates of male suicide in the world. Every week, an average of 10 Irish people die by suicide, eight of them men.
“There’s a saying we use in GROW in relation to mental health,” Stephen says. “‘You alone can do it, but you cannot do it alone.’ The first bit means it is our own responsibility to look after our mental health; the second phrase reminds us that we will often also need help. You only have to think how reluctant men are to seek directions when lost to realise the challenges posed when seeking help for bigger issues, such as in relation to physical or mental health.”
What’s more, he adds, many men probably devote more time to looking after their car’s health than their own.
“There is widespread acknowledgement of the idea that men talk ‘shoulder to shoulder’ rather than face-to-face ” whether that is running or cycling side by side, sitting in the car or working at a bench ” and maybe that’s the key to getting men to open up to each other?” Stephen suggests.
He refers to the global Men’s Shed movement, which describes itself as community spaces for men to connect, converse and create. The activities are often similar to those men do in garden sheds, but for groups of men to enjoy together. They help reduce loneliness and isolation, but most importantly, they’re fun, safe spaces then where confidences can develop and be shared organically, he adds. People often feel better able to confide, divulge, offload when walking side by side with a friend or family member, as face-to-face can be intimidating.
As Barnes observes: “Given that one in three men find themselves more anxious in social situations and 27 per cent of men regularly cancel plans to avoid interaction, it is now more important than ever to ensure that men are made to feel comfortable and able to speak without pressure or judgment, because it is clear that many are simply struggling in silence.”
Minal Mahtani’s mental health tips for a happier life
1. Do more of the things that make you feel good and help you to destress, such as playing sports, hiking or being around nature.
2. Spend time with friends, to release happy chemicals in the brain such as oxytocin, making you feel valued and connected.
3. Share what’s going on, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Everyone struggles, and you are not alone. To struggle is human.
4. Incorporate mindfulness, meditation and yoga into your life to help you relax.
5. Find a support group for mental health sufferers. This will make you feel supported and not alone.
Six mental health events in Hong Kong this month
1. Mental Movement, October 9, 7-8.45pm, Five Elements Habitat HK, Level 13A, Tower One, Times Square 1 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. Email [email protected] to attend.
2. World Mental Health Awareness Day ” Green Ribbon Campaign, October 10 (11am-2pm), Central District. Please share your experiences on the OCDAHK Facebook page.
3. Be Kind To Your Mind ” How to Enhance Mental Wellbeing, October 17, 7-8.30pm, Integrated Medicine Institute (IMI), 16 Stanley St, Kailey Tower, 17/F, Central, Hong Kong, HK$200. Email Varuna at [email protected] to RSVP with subject “IMI TALK”.
4. Food for Mood ” October 19, 2.30-3.30pm, Jadis Blurton Development Centre, 23 Belcher’s Street, 19th Floor, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong, HK$100. Email Varuna at [email protected] to RSVP with subject “Food for Mood Talk”.
5. Mindfully Fit, October 20, 11am-12pm, Mindful Pilates Balanced Body Balanced Mind, 8/F On Lan Centre, 11-15 On Lan St, Central, Hong Kong, by donation. Email Minal at [email protected] for details.
6. Art Therapy to Reduce Stress and Anxiety for Adults, October 28, 7pm-8.30pm, Wild Art Studio, Central, Hong Kong. Email Katie Flowers at [email protected] to RSVP and for details.
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2019 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.