In the UK, a powerful advertising campaign has been launched by the charity Men’s Minds Matter to combat male suicide. It aims to take us beyond statistics and offers a candid encounter with the fractured relationships that suicide leaves in its wake.
They are simple, seemingly harmless messages between loved ones, speech bubbles of affection. They become tragic in hindsight – chat threads are forever interrupted, crammed full of everything they don’t say.
The weight of what is not said is what matters and most moving part of the campaign message. Suicide is a problem that disproportionately affects men in the UK and also in Ireland. Accordingly Statistics of Samaritans dating back to 2019 almost 80pc of people who took their own lives that year were male. These numbers are consistent with the picture in most western countries.
When viewed across genders, statistics on suicide and mental illness paint a complex picture that leaves us puzzled as to how best to reach men in need.
For example, women are more likely than men to report mental illness or to seek help for mental illness. And while women are more likely to attempt suicide, men tend to choose deadlier methods and are far more likely to die by their own hands.
From a layperson’s perspective, it seems obvious that much of the difference is down to communication. If you are a woman, emotional pain is more likely to prompt you to tell your family or a health care provider about that pain.
However, when a woman attempts suicide, we must never downplay the seriousness of her intentions. This desperate act, if lucky, could represent a rock bottom state that facilitates communication.
For a man, a suicide attempt is much more like a final step into a silence that is permanent.
In other words, depression in Men seem stubborn compared to women. When men have made the decision to kill themselves, they are more determined.
All of this suggests that interventions specifically aimed at reaching men, as well as campaigns such as Men’s Minds Matter, are not only justified but urgently needed.
There is good news. AAccording to preliminary figures, which will not be confirmed until next year, the number of suicides in the republic has recently decreased overall. And initial reports suggest that the feared “tsunami” of mental health problems caused by Covid and successive lockdowns has not yet translated into the number of people taking their own lives.
It is still too early to explain this a trend. But in Ireland there has recently been a revolution in the way we deal with psychological issues Distress and mental illness in the public sphere.
Not so long ago, it was the problem no one was talking about. Now, within a decade or so, it has become what everyone is talking about. Over the past decade, the issue has skyrocketed the political agenda and made pledges for more investment in mental health.
A number of high-profile male figures, most notably musician and former Leinster player Bressie and musician and podcaster Blindboy, have made great strides in breaking down the stigma and, importantly, in developing effective coping strategies for dealing with mental distress.
They are speaking directly to their own millennial generation, which is crucial. The cohort most affected by suicide in Ireland are young males aged 25-35.
Together they carve out a new representation of young Irish masculinity and lead the charge for a generation that is emotionally educated and recognizes vulnerability without shame. For whom the search for help and support with mental problems is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of resilience.
Together they give us all hope that we are on the verge of embracing a new, more promising culture around men’s mental health and suicide prevention. This is all for the better – it is undeniable that education and awareness-raising are essential aspects of suicide prevention. But education and awareness can only get us so far.
Advertising campaigns aimed at men certainly help raise awareness of the issue. And the visibility of figures like Bressie and Blindboy could help young men in need feel less isolated and alone.
But all of that matters very little if men don’t have access to support in real life too.
No media campaign can be anywhere near as powerful as the individual factors that support men’s psychological well-being – the quality of the relationships in their lives and access to professional and personal support.
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https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/tackling-the-permanent-silence-that-is-suicide-41514792.html Confronting the permanent silence that is suicide