It’s Men’s Health Week from June 13th – 19th and there are plenty of opportunities to engage with. This year The Men’s Health Forum are promoting stress awareness and offering on-line stress busting tools. https://www.menshealthforum.org.uk/
A few months back I attended an inspiring workshop on Men and Suicide, hosted by the National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum. Two of the key speakers were from the Samaritans and offered some fascinating insights into the male bias in suicide.
One man dies every two hours as a result of suicide in the UK.
One woman dies every six hours as a result of suicide in the UK.
Michael and Martin from the Samaritans came to speak about the new approach which they recommend for talking more effectively to men in crisis. The Samaritans is promoting a new approach to engaging with men. ManTalk seeks to meet the needs of suicidal men by promoting the understanding of gender differences and how they can be considered in empathetic listening.
This approach acknowledges that men are inevitably cast in the role of providers, so events like the loss of a job can hold far more (stressful) significance for a man whose identity is bound up in the role of being the provider. The shame of failing to be a good provider can often be the final straw for someone who is already feeling desperate.
Michael and Martin have found that simple acts of kindness can make a huge difference to whether a man will speak about his worries, being genuinely interested in what has happened to a person and giving them the space to tell their story in their own way in their own time may be a crucial factor in whether a man will open up and share his story.
The growing demand for humane support
The small one-man-band counselling service founded by Chad Varah which sarted in 1953 gradually expanded as the demand for the support of the Samaritans took hold and word travelled that there was finally some confidential help for people considering suicide. Suicide and attempted suicide was eventually decriminalised in the UK in 1961, so those surviving an attempted suicide were no longer liable to prosecution.
Suicide prevention was considered to be a more humane approach to those in such emotional pain they were desperate enough to take their own lives. There are now over 200 branches of The Samaritans around the country, many offering face to face as well as the more common telephone support. The telephone service operates 24 hours a day seven days per week 365 days a year and is now available internationally in 40 countries across the globe.
Why are men so vulnerable?
86% of homeless people are men, 95% of prisoners are men, 65% of alcohol deaths are men and 92% of deaths at work are men. In light of these statistics it is perhaps less surprising that 75.6% of suicides in the UK and Republic of Ireland are men. It seems that their gender role as provider puts them in very pressured positions often resulting in relationship breakdown, homelessness, crime and potentially substance misuse.
Without The Samaritans, I wonder what the UK statistics for completed suicides might look like; without a doubt the picture would be a lot bleaker for people desperately teetering on the edge of the terrible decision about suicide.
The Samaritans have been around since 1953, when attempting suicide was still illegal; those who survived their attempt to end it all were prosecuted and imprisoned. Chad Varah started his work singlehandedly trying to ‘be there’ for people in crisis who were considering suicide as the only solution to their problems.
He quickly realised that the demand for his help far outweighed what could be achieved by one man. He recruited volunteers to ‘entertain’ those who were waiting to be seen by him and soon discovered that a cup of tea with a sympathetic listener was often as effective as the words of a trained counsellor. Being ‘listened to’ is the treatment. Chad Varah and subsequent suicide prevention practitioners believe that kindness and love are transformative and recovery is all about human connection.
‘Big Boys Don’t Cry’ (or talk)
Evolution seems to have cast men in the role of hunters, providers, protectors and risk takers, so perhaps there is something profoundly different about how men are wired.
Many of the roles that have traditionally been taken by men are very ‘task focused’ and this task focus often overrides emotion and by that token the need for the more complex and reflective ‘emotional intelligence’. Men may be ‘differently emotionally literate’, making them more vulnerable to self-sacrifice and the honour and shame associated with the ‘code of the warrior’.
There has been no proper research on why more men die from suicide, but the differential suicide rates between men and women together with the increasing overall rates in suicide, make it an urgent task to understand the differences in approaches needed to help men who are contemplating suicide.
Men do not talk about their troubles in the same way as women; they are less likely to respond to the usual cues, men seem to need more space and time to develop trust before they will open up about their troubles. The most recent approach advocated by those supporting vulnerable men suggests that ‘honouring men’s identity’ is a good place to start.
The Samaritans can be reached on: 08457 909090 (24 hours a day) or call for Free on 116 123
Sue Dowd | VAC Community Development Worker (Mental Health)