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World Suicide Prevention Day 2020: another day, another deaf ear for men

By Dr John Barry

Male suicide has increased since the year 2000. In fact male suicide rates are now at the highest level for 20 years, according to new figures from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS). Of recorded suicides in 2019, 4,303 were male and 1,388 were female. As usual for the UK since the 1990s, around three quarters of the deaths were male.

What might explain the exacerbation of this continuing tragedy?

According to the ONS: “Higher rates of suicide among middle-aged men in recent years might be because this group is more likely to be affected by economic adversity, alcoholism and isolation. It could also be that this group is less inclined to seek help.” Similarly, The Times newspaper suggested: “Male suicides have reached their highest level in two decades, prompting fears that some desperate middle-aged men are too proud to seek help.”

It is striking that although it is widely recognised that suicide is associated – especially in men – with economic adversity, alcoholism and social isolation, the ONS and Times highlight a lack of help-seeking by men as being the main issue.

The victim-blaming narrative is not only insulting to men and unhelpful in preventing suicide, it also misses the key point: men are not going to talk if society isn’t going to listen.

There are many ways which demonstrate that we are less likely to hear the distress of men than women. For example, when men talk about being the victim of domestic violence, they are often ignored or even laughed at, and when they express distress at not being given adequate access to their children after family breakdown, they often receive little help or sympathy (Liddon & Barry, 2021).

With the lockdown and economic depression associated with COVID-19, we can – very sadly – expect an increase in suicides, especially in men. And – very predictably – we can expect a chorus of victim blaming similar to that seen in recent decades.

We, as a society, need to become more aware of our unconscious bias against men in order to stop victim-blaming men and start helping them.

About the author

Dr John Barry is a chartered psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. His new book Perspectives in Male Psychology, co-authored with Louise Liddon, will be published by Wiley around the end of 2020.

If you are feeling suicidal, there are people who can offer advice and support. CALM offer advice on issues in general, and can be contacted here. For problems with domestic violence, contact the ManKind Initiative. For problems with family breakdown issues, contact Families Need Fathers.

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