With male suicide an epidemic currently rife within Australia, the Stop Male Suicide Project gives us seven ways to spot the symptoms.
Trigger warning: readers who may find the topic distressing are advised this article addresses male suicide. If you or anyone you know has suicidal thoughts or tendencies, please seek professional help or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Every day, an average of eight people in Australia take their own lives. Six of them are males. Of course, if there was a simple cure for male suicide, we could call for vaccination. But even despite the absence of a groundbreaking medical solution, stopping male suicide is actually a very simple concept. Of the 2,000-plus men who die by suicide in Australia every year, pretty much every one of them holds the same belief.
They believe that death is the best solution to the problems they are facing.
We can take from this, then, that male suicide prevention is about supporting suicidal men to find better solutions to the problems they are facing. Simple, but not necessarily easy. The Stop Male Suicide Project has the aim of finding ways to increase levels of what we’re calling “male suicide literacy.” Through a series of seminars designed to find out what people working in the suicide prevention sector think we all can do to stop male suicide, the Stop Male Suicide Project has, so far, identified seven steps that everyone can take to become more male suicide literate and help stop male suicide in Australia.
1. Know the facts
Every four hours, an Australian male will take his own life. The majority of suicide victims in Australia are straight, white, working age men – a group which doesn’t generally attract a great deal of public sympathy. In 2014, men aged 20 to 64 accounted for approximately 60 percent of all suicides in Australia, but men of all backgrounds can be affected by suicidal thoughts, at any stage of their life. On average, men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women of the same background.
2. Be aware of the risk factors
Some groups of men appear to be at an increased risk of suicide. These include indigenous men; gay men; unemployed men; separated men and men dealing with traumatic life events, such as bullying, violence and sexual abuse. Some mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia carry an increased risk of suicide, but male suicide is not limited to men with mental health issues. We know, for example, that when unemployment rises, so too does the number of men who take their own lives.
3. Understand the pathways that can lead men to suicide
While suicide often seems to occur without warning, there is a common pathway taken by all men who commit suicide. It starts with thoughts of suicide, progresses to planning or attempting suicide and in some cases ends in suicide. It is estimated that around two million Australians have considered suicide at some point in their life. Preventing male suicide means intervening to help men with thoughts of suicide, before they reach the end of the path.
4. Discover how you can spot a man at risk of suicide
One of the paradoxes of male suicide is that while men account for over 75 percent of suicides in Australia, women reportedly think about and attempt suicide more often. This can make it harder to spot a man with a suicide plan. Many suicidal men will reveal their plans, indirectly, through their thoughts, feelings and actions. Learning how to spot these warning signs in men is one way we can all improve our male suicide literacy and help stop male suicide.
5. Learn how to converse with those at risk of suicide
One of the myths of masculinity is that men don’t talk. According to English psychologist Martin Seager, “men are not emotionally illiterate but differently literate,” and we need to offer help and support in a way that honours those differences. Learning to have meaningful conversations with men starts with learning how to listen without judgment. The first judgment we need to let go of is the belief that men don’t talk.
6. Call for strategies to help stop male suicide
While everyone can play their part in helping to stop male suicide, it is an issue that needs to be tackled by politicians, policy makers and public servants at a state, national and international level. We all need to lobby our MPs to introduce suicide prevention strategies that specifically target men and boys and set ambitious goals to reduce male suicide.
7. Find out how to help men get the help they need
Too often, the high male suicide rate is blamed on the fact that “men don’t get help.” This tendency to victim blame not only does a great disservice to the many men who get help to fight and beat their suicidal thoughts, it also dishonours the many men who have taken their own lives after finding that the help they sought wasn’t enough to stop their suicide. What people who work effectively with men and boys will tell you, is that men do get help when male-friendly, male-positive support is available. So the question we need to be asking ourselves is not “why don’t men get help?”, but rather, “how can we be better at helping suicidal men access the help and support they need?”.
Suicide is a national crisis that we can all take action to tackle. The seven steps outlined in this article provide a short introduction to some of the ways we can all take action to prevent male suicide in Australia.
The Stop Male Suicide Project is hosting a series of events around the country in 2016 to educate and further develop strategies to stop male suicide. For more information, please visit the Stop Male Suicide Project website here.