The rise in the suicide rate of middle-aged men in the UK
Why are men more likely to complete suicide?
There has been much media coverage over the last few years about the rise in the suicide rate of middle-aged men. The suicide rate for men is three and a half times that of women and the biggest group to take their lives is middle-aged men. The Samaritans' research into this shocking statistic investigated why men in this age bracket are more likely to take their lives.
They found that men from poorer socio-economic backgrounds without jobs were 10 times more likely to complete suicide. Certain personality traits also contributed to the risk of suicide, for instance, a certain mindset e.g. perfectionism, self-criticism, continually ruminating and negative outlook for the future. When these problems were combined with deprivation, unemployment, social isolation, relationship breakdown then the risk was high.
Relationship breakdown is more likely to lead men than women to suicide; middle-aged men are less likely than women to have a group of close friends that they share their feelings and problems with and more reliant on their partners for emotional support. When relationships break up, men are more likely to end up living on their own, missing the social and emotional support of partners. They’re also more likely to be separated from their children, which can make men more prone to suicide.
Men’s image in society
Older men see ‘being a man’ as being powerful, in control, having a job and providing. If they don’t achieve this high standard they can feel a lot of shame, or feel crushed. Over the last few decades we’ve had a major social shift in the way we see men and their roles, which younger men may be able to take on board but men in their 40s and 50s can be left not knowing what this changing society expects of them – being strong, silent and austere like their fathers or other male role models, in today’s world, may not serve them any longer.
Men in this age group are less likely to talk about their emotions. They bottle things up until they get to breaking point, and they’re unlikely to seek help as they see it as being weak. Whereas many of their younger counterparts will talk to friends, see a counsellor, and are more open about their feelings.
We need to recognise that men experiencing depression are at risk. The Samaritans has saved many men from suicide by simply talking to them. We need to be able to recognise signs of distress in middle-aged men who may not be able to express their inner turmoil. We need more dialogue around what it means today to be a middle-aged man, taking into account their views and beliefs.
Men don’t need to get to this desperate stage; counselling is more and more an option for middle-aged men. By simply talking and being listened to gives some respite and more options in life. There is not the stigma that there used to be around talking about your problems to a stranger.
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