Men & Suicide – What’s the Deal?

The Statistics

According to the American Foundation for Suicide for Prevention, in the year 2017, men were more likely to commit suicide than women, by 3.54% more likely! In 2017 47,173 Americans died by suicideand there were an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts! If that doesn’t get you off the couch thenperhaps the fact that in 2015 suicide & self-injury cost the US $69 billion dollars! That’s how much it’ll cost CVS to buy Aetna, the health insurance giant! If that doesn’t give you shivers, it’s close to the grossNational Income of Haiti, which is about $20 billion!

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US, which means about 14 per 100,000 adults commit suicide. In other words, there are about 129 suicides per day, that is about one suicide every 11 minutes!That’s the amount of time it may take you to decide what to wear to work.

There are 327.2 million people in the United States and out of those 6 million men may be affected by depression, which is the leading cause of death amongst men, in the United States.

What’s the Problem?

So, what’s the problem? It’s the stigma men face. Men may believe this to be a personal health issue and a lack of personal fortitude as opposed to it being a real mental health struggle. They have not come to terms with their depression. They refuse to admit that, just like diabetes or hypertension, depression is inflammation, but of the mind that needs to be tended to, as they do with any physical ailment. This perception may also be related to their upbringing, as they are taught to be strong and quiet and to keep to themselves. This model of masculinity may be why men are more like to underreport symptoms of depression.

Extensive data shows that social connections and strong supportive networks significantly improve mental health. Unfortunately, men are not keen on building social networks. This is backed by research that shows that men are less able and less interested than women in building emotional and supportive relationships with others. Because they lack such social support and ignore their mental health, they may be more prone to turning to alcohol and other drugs to numb the pain.

A Possible Solution

Men must come to terms, that like children or females, they too may need help and that asking for helpdoes not decrease their ‘manly’ status in society. Once they do come to terms, then they can considerasking for the help that they may need. But in order to do so, we must break this stigma of masculinity that is prevalent amongst our society. Yes, we can do it. If an Oil company can do it on its oil rigs, we can do it in our society.

Before I delve into how this was done, one must first understand the culture that was exhibited on oil rigs. And to do so, one must just ask a worker about his experience.

Chreene [60, who started working on oil rigs at the age of 15] remembers the death of one man who had just finished a shift. He was standing before an enormous pipe that the workers twisted into the ground and held in place with a handle. The man kicked the handle, and the tension on the pipe released. It caught the man’s ankle as it whipped around.

“In about three seconds, it spun him around about 80 times,” Chreene says. A few feet from the man was a post, and “his head was hitting that post like a rotten tomato.”

They got 15 minutes to mourn after watching their friend and colleague die, but that was it. “I mean, that hole cost a lot of money,” he says. “We got to go to work.”

Even though the men faced the risk of death every day, Chreene says they never showed anyvulnerability.”

A beautiful example of how coming to terms with our mental health was implemented by Shell in 1997, and their implementation of eliminating macho behavior decreased the accident rate by more than 84%! Their findings were also published by Harvard Business Review (Unmasking Manly Men). Afterundergoing ‘training’, or as simply put, ‘talk sessions’ where they shared their feelings, two key aspects were noted by them: first, that much of their macho behavior was not only unnecessary but actually got in the way of doing their jobs & second, that their notions about what constituted strong leadership neededto change. They concluded that the “biggest, baddest roughnecks” who rose to the top weren’t the bestchoice at improving safety & effectiveness, but rather the ones who excelled were mission-driven men who cared about their fellow workers, were good listeners and were willing to learn.

These changes also had an unintended effect. Men were more willing to risk a blow to their reputation in order to do their job, and this profoundly influenced their sense of who they were and could be as men.

What Should Men Do?

If men in the hypermasculine environment of oil rigs can let go of the macho ideal and improve theirperformance, then men in corporate America, healthcare, law, military, you name it, can do the same. It’stime for men to start accepting that their machoness may be the cause of a lot of their problems. Onedoesn’t need to go see a psychologist or a healthcare professional but rather, one can start simply by talking to their closest relatives. And when discussions start, be mindful, be open, don’t judge, don’tcriticize but accept it and see how your life can truly change!

References:

Meyerson, Robin J. ElyDebra. “Unmasking Manly Men.” Harvard Business Review, 1 Aug. 2014, hbr.org/2008/07/unmasking-manly-men.

Chen, Angus. “Invisibilia: How Learning To Be Vulnerable Can Make Life Safer.” NPR, NPR, 17 June 2016, www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/06/17/482203447/invisibilia-how-learning-to-be- vulnerable-can-make-life-safer.

“Suicide Statistics.” AFSP, 16 Apr. 2019, afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/.

McKenzie SK, Collings S, Jenkin G, River J. Masculinity, Social Connectedness, and Mental Health: Men’s Diverse Patterns of Practice. Am J Mens Health.2018 Sep;12(5):1247-1261. doi: 10.1177/1557988318772732. Epub 2018 Apr 28. PubMed PMID: 29708008; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6142169.

Sigmon, Sandra T., et al. “Gender Differences in Self-Reports of Depression: The Response BiasHypothesis Revisited.” Sex Roles, vol. 53, no. 5-6, 2005, pp. 401–411., doi:10.1007/s11199-005-6762-3.