The scourge killing men: male suicide is at crisis point

We need to talk about the scourge killing men

When I hear of a man dying unexpectedly my mind automatically takes me there. Has depression taken another life?

When it comes to the fatality of men too often it is the case and there is no solace in being right.

Suicide is catastrophic and it is rife among men. More than twice as many Australians die by suicide each year than in car accidents and men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women.

Between 2004 and 2014, 19,995 Australian men took their own lives. Young, middle-aged and elderly. Married, single, divorced. City dwellers. Farmers. Miners. Doctors. Lawyers. Straight. Gay. Fathers. Sons. Brothers.

All sorts of things made these men different, but one thing made them the same. They each decided their life was not worth living.

It is, in every instance, inexplicably sad. The darkest of clouds with no silver lining. A tragedy that leaves in its wake permanently broken hearts and lives. Intense anguish, a burden of guilt and responsibility. Shattered families, friends and communities.

My understanding is that the decision to end your life cannot be viewed through the prism of rational thought. It is not an emotional choice or a logical decision. It is the resolution when someone feels there is no resolution. Because they can’t see beyond their torture. In that moment, for them, an alternative is impossible to imagine. And yet to everyone else, the only impossible, unimaginable scenario is the very one they carry out.

For anyone with uncompromised mental health, there are so many options. But for those who suffer, there are none. At least none they can see.

It is a fatal trap that catches far too many men. Research by the Black Dog Institute has found stoicism and masculine stereotypes are unhelpful: they reinforce the avoidance of difficult emotions and they make men less likely to reach out for help.

Among men who had recently attempted suicide, The Black Dog Institute found the effect of masculine stereotypes, acute stress, depressed mood and ineffective coping strategies combined to increase the likelihood of suicidal behaviour.

Last year radio host Gus Worland fronted an ABC documentary called Man Up that examined the issue of mental health among men. Its premise was to demonstrate that Man Up, doesn’t mean toughening it out: rather it encouraged men to open up and speak up.

Worland, who lost a close friend to suicide, wanted men to understand that sharing burdens, talking about problems and revealing vulnerabilities is not a sign of weakness.

That expressing emotions is not only acceptable, but essential.

“We shouldn’t feel that we have to suppress emotion,” Worland said. “We should totally let it go, because we know if we bottle it up it won’t be good for our mental health, so I was totally at ease with it all. I hope that a lot of other blokes see that and go, well if that big boofhead can do it, then I’ll be able to do it.

“It’s not being weak and it’s not being pathetic and it’s not being girly. It’s actually being really, really powerful and strong for you not to care how people perceive you. Just literally be how you want to be and if that means have a cry, then you go and have a cry.”

On Sunday it was reported that the 37 year old father, husband and former Wallaby Dan Vickerman had died. His death is not considered suspicious and has been met with an outpouring of emotion and grief from his friends, peers and the rugby community.

Men are vulnerable and masculinity compounds it.

If you need support you can call: Lifeline 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467, Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800, MensLine 1300 78 99 78.

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