Suicide in males is a massive problem in our society. In 2015, 3027 Australians took their own life, 75 per cent of whom were male. These figures are terrifyingly high, but what reasons do we have to understand this number?
Mental illness and Masculinity
If we strip the issue of mental illness in men down to the core, we reach the concept of masculinity. Statistically, men are less likely to see a doctor or talk about their mental and physical illnesses than women. Reasons cited for this include the social pressure to “man up”, be brave and emotionless. We see it in films and TV shows. Young boys are told not to cry and men who show emotion are branded as homosexual or weak. All around us boys are shown that they need to use physical violence to express themselves. They’re told not to cry but to bottle it up.
If society continues to tell men that they can’t show emotions, how then can we expect them to speak up when it’s a matter of life or death?
The oppression of true emotions in boys leads to an array of problems, resulting in lashing out because it wasn’t possible for them to talk about what was happening. James Holmes, a mass murderer responsible for the death of 12 people had a history of mental illnesses and after the incident, author Stephen Singular comments, “Holmes didn’t want to tell his parents about what he was going through because he didn’t want to appear weak.”
Dealing with the concept of precarious manhood
The term “precarious manhood”, coined by psychologists Joseph Vandello and Jennifer Bosson, refers to how masculinity must continuously be earned – to be considered “a man”, you have to prove your masculinity over and over again. This concept, and men’s struggle with showing emotions, are deeply intertwined. If a man cries, all the “man points” he has earned disappear and now he has to earn them back again. He does this by displaying acts of typical manliness: liking sport, drinking beer, acts of violence and, most importantly, questioning other men’s manliness.
To question a man’s masculinity makes him feel vulnerable and weak. If a man’s true emotions put him at risk of being seen as less manly, he automatically puts up a shield, a survival mechanism to ensure his safety in social environments. It is easy to feel alone when one suffers from depression, but a big problem as to why men commit suicide more than women, is that they struggle to talk about their emotions, in the risk of being ostracised.
So how can we fix this?
The well-known Movember campaign focuses on men dying too young. In Australia the average life expectancy for men is 81, and women 84. In the US, the gap is larger with men dying at 72 and women at 79. The difference can be linked to a variety of issues, including the higher rates of suicide. Movember aims to encourage men to talk about their issues with other men. This helps break down social barriers of talking about their emotions.
#ITSOKTOTALK is another campaign started by men, for men, in support of men and mental illnesses. It’s the brainchild of Halifax rugby player Luke Ambler, whose brother ended his own life after not having a safe space to talk about how he was feeling. “He was at our house on Saturday having a laugh and a joke, he played football as usual on Sunday before spending time with the family and then on Monday night, he killed himself with no explanation,” Ambler told The Guardian.
For more information on masculinity, the concept of “manning up”, places to seek help and places to talk about your feelings, check out the clips, trailers and websites below.
If you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness, speak with someone immediately. Contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
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