Today is World Mental Health Day, which gives me an opportunity to talk about the somewhat taboo subject of male suicide. Thankfully it is not so taboo anymore and a there is concerted effort to try and do something about it and it seems to be working.
Male suicide is at its lowest level for more than 30 years, but the thing most likely to kill you before you are 50 is yourself. Three quarters of all suicides are men, the suicide rate of men aged between 45 and 49 in the UK is higher than any other age group, every week 84 British men take their own lives.
So what can we do about it? Well talking helps. Talking about the subject to raise awareness, talking about mental health issues to make it less taboo. I think that all of us at some time experience less than optimum mental health. Although this may vary in severity and impact we should still talk about it. Even more important if we think there is somebody we know, a friend or family member who you think might be struggling then talk to them.
Men often just assume that are friends are ok, as we often just put a brave face on. Someone says “how you doing mate?” and the answer is usually “yeah not bad”. When inside a voice is screaming I’m miserable, my life’s a mess and I don’t know if I want to carry on? We need to start looking for signs that our friends are maybe not actually ok. But we also need to be brave enough to say “to be honest I’m not feeling too great” to help start those conversations.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking with friends or family then there are other sources of help. Men are much more likely to turn to drink or drugs as a way making themselves feel better or hide away from how they are feeling, but this isn’t going to fix anything. If anything it will only make things worse. So where else can you turn?
You could talk to your doctor or call one of the many charities such as the Samaritans, or one of the male specific support organisations such as CALM Campaign Against Living Miserably. CALM offer a helpline that is open every day of the year between 5 and Midnight as well as webchat if you don’t feel comfortable talking on the phone. But whatever you do don’t just stay silent, being silent isn’t being strong.
And herein lies part of the problem, the image of what it is to be a man. We still put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves to be strong, to be successful and to look good and judge ourselves against the rippled torso and intimidating bulges of underwear models. We judge ourselves against what we assume to be the best of others against what we know to be the worst of ourselves.
Maybe what these gender neutral days should tell us that maybe you shouldn’t be trying to live up to what it is to be a man. Maybe you should just be living up to being the best version of you and not somebody else. Maybe you shouldn’t care what others might think you look like in your underwear.
If you are struggling to do that then rather than try trying to be a man and struggle on without talking to someone, why not try to be you and ask for help before there is no "you" left?