Male suicides in the UK reach record high

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Suicide now represents one of the biggest killers of young men across the UK according to a report by the Department of Health…

Kevin Heaney, 28, was a happily married, chatty, football-loving bloke.

To everyone around him it seemed as though everything was going well for the software engineer form Ealing.

But one day Kevin found out his wife was having an affair with his brother and he hanged himself.

Rhian Thomas a spokesperson at mental health charity Mind says he could have been saved if he only knew where to seek help.

"Just talking to someone is enough to get through," she says.

Heaney is just one of 21,000 men who have taken their own lives over the last five years in the UK.

Young men in particular, between the ages of 15 and 34, are becoming increasingly successful at ending their lives.

Hanging and car exhaust fumes, which are unpleasant ways to go for the individual and those around them, are the exit routes most often chosen.

According to a report by the Department of Health (DoH), suicide is now the commonest cause of death in men under the age of 35.

Philip Hodson, a counsellor at British Association of Counsellors says this is worrying.

"It means men’s lives are tough," he says.

Historically, men dominated business and education so they did not need to worry about pressures by women. But now, Hodson says, girls do better at school, while women push men at work.

To tackle the problem, the DoH launched a national suicide prevention strategy in a bid to reduce the number of deaths by at least a fifth by 2010. And it has invested £329m to do so.

Men commit suicide because they deal with problems using physical violence, say experts.

Hodson says that when men commit suicide, they tend to choose definite and violent methods.

"Men are doers. They are good at expressing aggressive feelings but not emotional feeling. Girls turn to their mums, but boys can’t," he says.

"Boys act violently at school to prove they are tough. They like watching war and combat movies. Fighting is a part of the male psychology," explains Thomas.

Counsellors agree men need to learn to develop more communicative and supportive relationships with friends and experts believe school programmes should be designed to devalue violence and talk more.

Hodson says footballer David Beckham is a good role model.

"He talks about his feelings, saying that he loves his kids and listening to his wife. He expresses his feelings,” says Hodson.

“Boys need to have a good father figure,” he adds.

A spokesperson for the DoH points out that a lack of a support system for men is causing this high suicide rate.

"Men don’t talk about their feelings or suffering,” he says.

“Men are not well-informed about mental illness and depression. Depression is a serious illness. The deeper the depression, the more likely it is that a person will experience suicidal inclinations,” he adds.

A spokesman for the Samaritans says when depression takes you over, you don’t look for evidence that people love you, but you get lost in your own feelings.

"You feel empty and you lose all reason to exist. You feel that you have no-one to talk to and you have had enough of life," he says.

The suicide of popular chef Bernard Loiseau on 24 February, 2003 exposed the competitive and tough business world.

The French chef killed himself after his restaurant was demoted by prominent restaurant journal the Michelin guide. But Loiseau’s death was just one of many caused from pressure at work.

James Crossley, 32, contemplated suicide after he was fired a year ago.

"My life was quite comfortable as a business analyst at a Telecommunication company. But when I got sacked, I got very depressed.”

“My girlfriend left me and I was devastated. As I live on the eighth floor, I used to look down and think what if I just jumped off."

He found the Samaritans email address on a magazine and decided to get in contact with them.

"I was not in a state that I could talk to someone, let alone my friends as I could hardly see them. But emailing the Samaritan was cathartic. They don’t give you advice or say do this and do that. They will just be there and listen."

Neil Walker, a psychiatric nurse and counsellor in west London, says people usually attempt suicide to block unbearable emotional pain such as isolation and failure.

"Unemployed men often see themselves as failures," says Walker.

"Our society strongly defines manhood as the ability to work and provide for family," he adds.

Another problem is men don’t want to accept the fact that they are suffering and having difficulties says Walker.

"They miss early signs that can lead to serious ones. There are lots of help if you seek it out: counselling, alternative therapy, mental health charities, the Samaritans, telephone help lines or information lines," he explains.

“Too many depressed men are left unsupported and isolated in the community, with nowhere to turn.”

There are a number of possible indicators that men may be a suicide risk. Look out for a recent bereavement, the break-up of a relationship, a major disappointment such as failed exams, losing a job or a missed job promotion.

People who have made a previous suicide attempt or have a family history of suicide are at particular risk.

Hodson says there is no immediate solution.

However, as girls seem to understand better about other people’s troubles in life, sex, relationship failure, by reading magazines like Cosmopolitan, it would be a great help if there are more men’s magazines covering the issue.

"Knowing other peoples’ problems helps. It’s a feel good factor. You are not the only one who is depressed or suffering," Walker explains.

But Walker believes that magazines are not going to solve the problem immediately as men are not used to reading about other people’s problems.

"Men are emotionally and physically more fragile than women," says Hodson.

"You have to accept that you are not a machine. It is okay to express your feelings."