Photo taken by prevention campaigner Jonny Benjamin: material from a public talk – informing and educating on male suicide prevention.
Written by James Charles Cantwell
Suicide is now the leading killer of men, under 45 in the United Kingdom. To combat the growth, men are being urged to speak about how they feel.
For the 4,632 male suicides every year, one third will not speak to anyone about their suicidal thoughts. Whether we feel vulnerable or susceptible to the unthinkable or not, men need to open up to prevent what is killing them most.
Nothing clarified that more than speaking to survivor-turned suicide prevention campaigner Jonny Benjamin in late March.
“I know the impact sharing your vulnerability can have. Sharing that permission to speak is so important.”
“Particular in this British culture, so stiff upper-lip and reserved. We wear this mask and we don’t like to share our vulnerabilities and our emotions, and that needs to change.
Jonny’s candid and honest phrasing spoke volumes of how pivotal it is for men, young and old, to be truthful about how they feel when going through the good times and the hard.
While middle aged men are more susceptible to suicide, anyone can be vulnerable to the biggest killer in men under 45.
“No one’s immune to adult mental issues, and no one’s immune to feeling suicidal.
Speaking from experience, Jonny understands the steps undertaken by men recovering from attempted suicide.
In 2015, a channel 4 television production documented Jonny’s worldwide search the stranger who talked him out of jumping off of Waterloo Bridge in 2008.
The documentary took viewers on a journey through Jonny’s plans to commit suicide, his failed attempt, and the plans to find his saviour, showing how important it is for men not only to be reached out to, but to reach out themselves.
“I know, we know, if you reach people early enough you can reduce that shame and embarrassment. Then if they do need help and support they are more likely to ask for it.
It may seem strange to encourage young people to talk about mental health and suicide when they have only started living, but the real paradox is that suicide is also the biggest killer of young people in the UK.
“I never got any mental health education in school and I know it would have made such a difference if someone were to come in and say ‘I’ve had these experiences; I’ve been suicidal’. I know it would have made a huge difference to hear someone else talk who had been through them, and especially talking about recovery.
Regularly speaking at schools, prisons and community centres to inform and aware all how to prevent against suicide, Jonny recognises the limitations of suicide prevention in the UK.
“Suicide prevention is poor in this country. There is a prevention plan, but a lot of councils can’t actually implement it because they don’t have a budget for it. 17 people are killing themselves every day in this country, and local councils can’t do anything about it.
“We have charities like CALM and the Samaritans who do great work, but there isn’t enough visibility. Here in England it seems like we still want sweep the issue under the carpet.”
Suicide prevention starts with informing men on their opportunities to speak. The aforementioned charity CALM is dedicated to male suicide prevention, and has made strives to making society aware of their existence and of their cause.
From having a strong social media presence, through accredited accounts on Twitter and Facebook and publishing a monthly magazine, the charity has been able to attract viewership from a male audience who have often shown to not engage openly with these support networks.
External influence from mainstream British media have also benefited the charity, with online magazine UNILAD documenting the charity’s ten-year celebration by speaking to various people who turned-out in support of the cause.
“The fact that there’s a party right now and people are so openly talking about it is so important. But I think in actual real life people… don’t talk”, said one of the attendees.
“We are trying to get guys to open up. We are trying to say ‘look you can just talk to people’ like text your mates, really talk, communicate and if you do talk, then hopefully the unthinkable won’t happen”, said a representative of CALM.
Another stumbling block of getting men to speak is informing them of who to speak to. Many men choose to not speak to their friends or colleagues through the thought of burdening a relationship.
CALM themselves run a nationwide call service and web-chat, which they use as their avenues to encourage men who feel they can’t speak to people they know. CEO of CALM Jane Powell explained to Euroviews the challenges they have in preventing male suicide.
“Men aged 35-55 form the majority of our callers. We don’t have a problem encouraging them to talk. Calls can last over an hour. This group may feel they should be strong and silent, but given the opportunity they’ll talk.”
“We are clear in our literature that we run a helpline for men and signposting it in a way which recognizes and celebrates their gender rather than targets them for being victims.”
“Being silent isn’t being strong”
Alongside CALM, the Samaritans also work to raise awareness about the prevalence of suicide in middle-age men, and study the reasons why they are the most suicidal group in the UK.
Speaking to British broadsheet the Telegraph, the Samaritans head of policy and research Clare Wyllie described the generation as men brought up in a different time.
“They grew up with fathers who were austere, silent and traditional. They grew up with the expectation that they were going to be the head of the household. That they were going to be the breadwinners. That they were going to be respected by their wives and families.
“But what has happened is that social relations and work has changed, their identities, work and relationships have been blown apart by social change.”
Decades of social progress have led to less dependence on men as the head of the family, while the concept of an open, progressive, expressive modern man has emerged. Caught in the middle of the gentleman and the metrosexual man, today’s more ‘masculine’ middle age men are more frail to buckle, and more than any other break.
Often refereed to as the “buffer generation” because they are caught between their stiff upper lip fathers and more open and expressive sons, the generation are still “struggling to cope with the major social changes”, according to a 2012 Samaritans report entitled Men, Suicide and Society.
But how do the men feel?
Despite the change in the nature of society, men still identity with traditional roles and values. In 2014, a CALM study found that 42% of men believe they should be the main breadwinners of their households, with 4 in every 5 men considering their job to be either ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to their self-esteem.
CALM CEO Powell pinpointed the common factors that today’s most suicidal share to better target vulnerable men in the future. No surprises, the most common factors were “age and their cultural experience.”
“In 10-years time the likely-hood is that suicide will then be very very high in men in their late 50’s early 60s. Looks like it’s about early experience of a) expectations and pressure re: employment when the economy was tough and b) at a time when women were joining the workforce.
From 2014 research conducted by CALM, men between the ages of 40-54 are of the most likely to commit suicide with 25.7 fatalities per 100,000.
“But the over-riding picture is that men, at any age, take their lives in higher numbers than women. The unifying factor here is masculinity. It is frustrating that more people pick up on the middle age group than the far higher differences between men and women. “
Since 1981, suicide in women has decreased by 40%, whereas male suicide has gradually risen. The difference is so great that male suicide in the UK is over 3 times the female rate.
In response to the challenging task of getting men to start to talk and open-up, there has been a rise in private sector support as an alternative avenue for men to seek assistance.
“Men are literally dying because they cannot open up, because they cannot express themselves”, said therapist and Breakthrough Mindset Coach Tori Ufondu, speaking to Euroviews.
“We really have to start with how you’re thinking because that governs absolutely everything. It governs how you fit in society and really whether you care about if you fit in society.
“From the men I have seen, they found it really difficult to identify what their problems were. There were so many different issues that kept coming up because I think that not everybody knows what their problem is.
“Particularly in the case of men who have been so practiced at not expressing what their problems are, to actually decide whether to talk, it’s almost a bit too daunting.”
For men that have for so long kept their negative thoughts to themselves, the first step in opening up is without doubt the hardest.
For all men who identify with masculinity and manliness, continuing to sweep issues under the carpet is only going to prolong dealing with the problem. But making men aware sooner of the opportunities to speak is only tackling half the problem.
Men also need to be aware that speaking about how they feel isn’t going to damage their masculinity or taint their identity. Charities and community organisations will continue to do their work to prevent against male suicide, but it is the men who have to accept the support.
Reporting for Euroviews,
James Charles Cantwell
In watching the aforementioned documentary, The Stranger on the Bridge, there were a few messages of appreciation sent to survivor Jonny in response to his campaign.
“Hi Jonny, just wanted to wish you luck in finding Mike. You’ve obviously come a long way in the past six years, and I admire what you’re doing to educate the world about mental health. Our son Richard took is own life on the 14th of February 2008 at the age of 21. If only someone had found the right words.”
“Since seeing your Facebook message you have been on my mind all day. My husband took his own life on January 24th 2012. He had lost hope and could not see any other way. I had no idea that I was going to walk in to that on the Tuesday night to find my husband. I believe to this day that I am still in shock. He left behind myself and our 8-year-old daughter Olivia and our worlds came crashing down. It was too late to save my husband but thank God that man helped you that day. I hope that life has been kind to you since that day, and you have reflected on life and the impact that way out would have had on others. I hope you find the man you’re looking for, and I just wanted also to send you a huge hug through an email.”
“You made the right decision. It’s a bit silly this place and there’s a lot of weird shit going on but it’s quite lovely really and we’re all on the same team.”