Globally, every minute, a man dies by suicide.
In Ireland, 75% of suicides are men.
What can we do?
Most men say they would be there for their friends if they needed them.
However, most men also say that they feel uncomfortable asking friends for help.
Something needs to change.
Why do we need to focus on men's health issues and needs?
Males constitute almost 50% of the population on the island of Ireland and, therefore, deserve to have a gender lens focused upon their specific health needs. Research shows that these men experience a disproportionate burden of ill-health and die too young.
Men’s health is not just an issue for individual men.
While it is crucial for men to take responsibility for looking after themselves, their health can often be determined by other factors outside of their personal control. Thus, there is also a need for policy-makers, service providers, and society as a whole to recognise the role that they need to play, and to do something practical about it.
Men can sometimes be uncomfortable reaching out to others for help, or think it might be a burden on their friends if they talk openly about what they are feeling or going through.
If a man you know seems to be going through a tough time, they might not talk about it even if they want to or feel as though it will help. The first step in looking out for them is reaching out.
How to prepare for this conversation
It is important to remember that you cannot fix someone’s problems, but you can be there for them and let them know so. There are times when listening is the best thing you can do and exactly what they need. People often try to avoid the topic if they feel something is wrong with a peer – you will not and cannot make things worse by asking how he is doing.
1. Look after yourself – are in a good state of mind and have time to listen? If they don’t feel ready to talk or don’t want to speak to you about it, are you ok with that? If you do ask them how they are doing, are you prepared for the answer to potentially be “not good”?
2. Think of a time and place in advance – while a good conversation can happen just about anywhere – getting out for a walk in nature, sharing a hobby, watching TV or even via text are all ways through which guys might find it more comfortable to talk.
3. Ask the question – start by mentioning things you have observed about him lately that have concerned you (in a caring and non-judgemental manner). Maybe you have noticed him spending more time at the pub, arriving late to work or missing social events.
4. Specifics – how he’s feeling might be as a result of something specific happening in his life; problems at work, a break-up, fatherhood or family issues. It can help to share a little about what’s going on in your own life to help them feel more comfortable talking about theirs.
He may not be ready to talk. In this case, make sure he knows you’re there for him and that you care. It can also help to let him know that it’s ok not to feel ok, and that it is normal and very common. He is one of many.
If you’re concerned he is at risk of suicide
It is important that you refer him to a professional. Offer the number for Pieta House or Samaritans, online resources available or suggest he contact his GP as soon as possible to discuss how he is feeling. Offer your support – either physically attending an appointment with him or through supportive words.
This can seem daunting to talk about, but you are not going to make things any worse for him by asking directly. Remind him that he is not a burden – to you or anyone in his life – and ask him directly and specifically if he has thought about suicide.
Listen and let him know you hear what he’s saying
This is the most important thing. If he’s open to talking, make sure you don’t interrupt. You don’t have to try to diagnose his problems, offer solutions or give advice – as counter-intuitive as it seems, he might just need some help in telling his story out loud.
Don’t diminish or dismiss what he’s feeling
Take everything he says seriously, and don’t judge him or how he’s reacting to whatever is going on in his life. His pain is his pain. Acknowledge that his feelings are valid.
Encourage him to keep talking. Try nodding, asking open-ended questions, or asking more about things he has said.
You don’t have to have all the answers for him, but you can explore some of his options with him. Ask him about the things he used to enjoy or encourage him to consider talking to others around him.
Offer the number for Pieta House or Samaritans, suggest online resources available or suggest he contact his GP or another professional for more help.
Check back in with him
Keep in touch with where he’s at, how he’s feeling and make a plan for the near future to meet again. Set a reminder for yourself to send him a message or a call. Suggest a catch up in person, grab a bite to eat or do something together. Try to avoid making vague future plans – pick a time and commit.
When you check back in with him, make sure he knows you’re there when he needs you. It is important to reiterate this as he could have convinced himself in the meantime that he is merely a burden on you.
A lot of men lack the tendency to share what they are feeling when it comes to their mental health if attributed to their stubbornness, rooted in the traditional notions of masculinity in society.
Mental health services for men
However, in addition to this, many formal mental health services are not finely attuned to men’s needs, particularly minority men. Many of these services tend to emphasise medication or talk therapy. However, research suggests that men tend to prefer action over words in stressful or upsetting situations.
Thus, there is the growing popularity of practical interventions such as Men’s Sheds. These are physical spaces where men who may be struggling with their mental health and feeling isolated and lonely can come together and engage in practical activities such as woodwork and repairs while receiving invaluable support from peers and others in the same boat.
Part of the problem is that men are given mixed messages while growing up. One person in their lives – whether in school, work or their family – tells them that men have to be strong and not to be weak and not to cry, and this stigma around men’s mental health is damaging.
Another person might tell them it is important to talk about their feelings. As a teenager, it is hard to know when it is “okay” to do either. Thus it is definitely important to open this discussion so that men are free to explore all aspects of what it is to be a man in today’s world.
We need to change the dialogue. It needs to be “you can be tough but if things are going really badly and you cannot find a way out of it on your own, have a conversation with your best friend, a sibling or parent – shed some tears and get some help with it. There is no shame in that, and there is nothing about it that affects your masculinity. Being vulnerable is a gift, not a weakness.”
To speak with someone immediately, contact Pieta House on 1800 247 247 or Samaritans on 116 123.
If life is in danger, call 112 or 999 or go directly to emergency services.