MENTAL HEALTH ∙ 6 minutes read

Why are male suicide rates so high?

By Joseph Lee | Medically reviewed by Danielle Brightman

The way suicide is represented and approached as a topic can present uncertainty and stigma. We take a look at why men commit suicide and what can be done to prevent it.

What are the suicide rates in the UK?

Between 2014 and 2017 the number of suicides started to fall, but three years ago the number started rising again. Over the last decade, the number of suicides has gone up most for people aged 10-24 years, and men aged 45-60 years. 

In 2020, male suicide rate was 15.3 per 100,000 people compared to the female suicide rate of 4.9 per 100,000. Although the number of suicides compared to the general population may appear low, more people are affected by the thought of intentionally ending their own life. Over the course of a lifetime, one in five people have suicidal thoughts and a shocking one in fifteen people attempt suicide. Think of your football team and subs, statistically at least one of those people will attempt to end their own life - it is a harrowing thought. 

In 2020 there were 5,224 deaths registered in England and Wales where the cause was recorded as suicide. To put that into perspective, 100 people take their own lives every single week in England and Wales. 

Why do men commit suicide?

The complexity of suicidal behaviour results from a wide range of genetic, psychological, psychiatric, social, economic and cultural risk factors that increase an individual’s vulnerability to trauma - people who have experienced trauma are at a greater risk of suicide.

Some of the issues that lead people to take their own life are universal across genders, such as mental health problems, bullying or discrimination, abuse (domestic, sexual or physical) bereavement and losing a loved one to suicide, the end of a relationship, adjusting to a big change (retirement or redundancy) and doubts about sexual or gender identity. 

However, following a consistent trend back to the mid-1990s, 75% of suicides in the UK are from men. Since 2013, men aged 40-54 have had the highest suicide rate in the UK, accounting for a quarter of all suicide deaths in 2019.

The question is: why?

Perceptions of masculinity

Perceptions of masculinity could be a reason more men commit suicide than women. Some men may compare themselves against a masculine ‘gold standard’, which prizes power, control and invincibility. If men feel they do not ‘live up’ to these standards, their sense of shame and defeat may have dire consequences. Being able to have a job that provides for the family, especially in working-class men, can also put unnecessary pressure on male lives.

Celebrities and Suicide 

In 2021 box office smash-hit Suicide Squad hit our screens… again. The film, adapted from a DC Comics story, features a group of estranged misfits who engage in activities that put their lives at risk. That’s pretty much the premise of the movie, a bunch of troubled villains are hired to fight for a good cause but if they stray away from their mission, the suicide-bomb vests they wear are detonated. These characters at risk of suicide are humourised and villainised by Hollywood entertainment, watched by many people across the world, but the realities of suicide are no laughing matter. 

But why so serious? Because things got pretty serious for a depressed character in the superhero movie, The Dark Knight. Just a couple of months after finishing his role as The Joker, actor Heath Ledger committed suicide. Heath Ledger is just one of the 700,000 people who die from suicide each year, globally. This equates to roughly one person actively choosing to end their life every 40 seconds.

The influence of celebrity culture and those in the media spotlight has stark consequences. Evidence suggests that a rise in celebrity suicides leads to a rise in suicides in the general population, with some people even imitating the same method of fatality.

However, the pressure on celebrities to be positive role models and suppress mental health problems away from the media limelight could force them to take drastic negative action on their own existence.

Young people who are potentially more vulnerable to other influences are also tragically seeing suicide as their only option as suicide is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide for 15-19-year-olds.

Suicide and money worries

Suicide isn’t a just problem for celebrities struggling to cope with fame and fortune, it is a very real action despite financial status. In fact, 77% of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries. As many suicide events take place in lower-income families in the poorer parts of the world, such as in farming communities and violent crime areas, ingestion of pesticides, hanging and firearms are among the most common methods of suicide. 

Suicides had been declining in Europe until 2007, but after the global recession in 2008, the number of suicides had increased by 6.5%, with data analysed from 54 EU countries, the US and Canada. This evidence suggests recession and serious financial insecurity has a marked impact on the increase of suicide, with losing a job, having a home repossessed and being in debt contributing to some of the main risk factors.

Some European countries such as Sweden and Finland avoided increases in the suicide rate during the recession. This runs in parallel to their investment in schemes that help people return to work, such as training, advice and even subsidised wages. Taking preventative action, providing primary care and identifying people who are most at risk is key to helping save lives from suicide.

But it is not just large scale recession that has links to poor mental health and suicide. The charity Mind has seen an increased number of people contacting their phoneline concerned about the impact of money and unemployment on their mental health, since 2008. Depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts are more prone to arise when individuals face money worries, debt or unemployment

How do I know if I’m suicidal?

There are some common feelings that may be experienced by those who are likely to embark on the final act of taking their life. Some of these emotions are also associated with types of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression:

  • A feeling of hopelessness - as if there is no point in living
  • A feeling of being overwhelmed and tearful by negative thoughts
  • A feeling of pain that won’t ever end
  • A feeling of uselessness - not wanted or needed by others
  • A feeling of desperation - as if suicide is the only choice
  • A feeling that everyone would be better off without you
  • A separation from your body or physical numbness
  • A fascination with death

These are some of the feelings felt by those in a suicidal mindset. They are strong thoughts but they can be overcome by understanding that there is another choice, the choice of life. 

How to spot if someone is suicidal

There are physical and social behaviours that manifest into everyday life for those affected by suicidal thoughts. These may even be experienced without the person realising but can be noticed by others around them. You can look out for some of these changes to spot if someone is suicidal, however, these signs aren’t always visible. Social and physical behaviours of individuals impacted by suicide may experience:

  • Quality of sleep is poor - waking up earlier than you want to
  • Neglecting physical appearance - no desire to take care of yourself
  • Communication issues - a struggle to communicate with people
  • Appetite change - either weight gain or loss
  • Unsociable - wanting to avoid others
  • Making a will or giving away possessions
  • Self-loathing and low self-esteem
  • Urges to self-harm

If you or anyone you know is affected by these behaviours remember not to ridicule them, be supportive, there is always help out there, including a list of helplines at the end of this blog.  

How can we decrease the number of male suicides?

The stigma surrounding suicide causes a barrier for many people thinking of taking their own life or who have experienced suicide attempts, to seek support. 

Due to a lack of awareness of suicide, prevention is not sufficiently addressed as a major public health problem in many countries. Despite suicide being a global health problem, only a few countries have included suicide prevention among their health priorities - 38 of which have a national suicide prevention strategy.

The British government put together a Suicide Prevention Strategy in 2016 after they recognised the rising issue and number of suicides. This strategy aimed to lower the number of suicides by 2021, with the official report being released in 2022. 

But when it comes to social issues impacting the daily living of the UK, we can’t always rely on the government. There is hope though and it starts with people talking. Collectives such as the Campaign Against Living Miserably are supporting people to be open, helping them take positive steps to uplift their life, not cut it short. 

Off the back of that, we are seeing suicide awareness creeping into everyday culture. Fashion and lifestyle brands such as Boys Get Sad Studio are positively challenging people to break down the stigma around men affected by mental health issues, through considered clothing design. Wearing the message is a surefire way to start a conversation to ensure no one suffers in silence.   

Support for people impacted by suicide

There is a range of non-judgemental support available for anyone having suicidal thoughts or those who are affected by suicide. Speaking directly to a supportive person on the phone can help individuals who have suicidal ideation.

Silence of Suicide (SOS)

This service is available for anyone who is affected by poor mental health and/or touched by suicide. SOS are here for anyone who needs to talk and for someone to listen to them. The opening hours are between 8pm to midnight on weekdays and between 4pm to midnight on Saturday and Sunday. 

Call: 0300 1020 505
Email: [email protected] 

Visit their website for more info

PAPYRUS 

A national charity for people under the age of 35. Suicide is the leading cause of young deaths in the UK. Phone line opening hours are between 9am to midnight every day. 

Call: 0800 068 41 4. 

Text: 07860 039967

Email: [email protected]

Visit their website for more info

Samaritans

Samaritans campaign under the National Suicide Prevention Alliance (NSPA). Phone lines are free and open every day 24/7.

Call: 116 123 

Email: [email protected] 

Visit their website for more info

Message hotlines are also available if speaking on the phone is too difficult. These are open 24 hours a day, every day:

Shout

Shout Crisis Text Line – for everyone

Text "SHOUT" to 85258

Young Minds

YoungMinds Crisis Messenger – for people under 19

Text "YM" to 85258

The Bottom Line 

Raising awareness to make sure people understand there is help out there if they are affected by suicidal thoughts and events is crucial for a society that values human life. Look out for any signs of change in mood and behaviours of your friends, family and wider community. If you are worried about suicidal behaviours or thoughts, for someone you know or for yourself, you are not alone and there is always someone that can help you to navigate the challenge of life - to survive and thrive!

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