May 15, 2018, by Kate
Male suicide and barriers to seeking help – thoughts from a Forensic Psychologist
Suicide is the leading cause of death for males under age 50 in the UK. Understanding and reducing this risk is a core concern for forensic psychology. I recently heard on the news that as many as 84 men take their own lives every week in the UK. This perhaps should not have been surprising to me, I’ve worked with men in psychiatric hospitals for five years. I remain humbled by the stories of pain, survival and recovery I hear regularly. However, these facts did shock me. The brutal truth of the sheer numbers emphasises the scope of the problem.
In both my professional and personal life, I have been struck by the barriers which discourage men from expressing vulnerability. While there have been times when I have felt inhibited in showing my emotions, particularly in order to be a ‘professional woman’, I have usually had a safe outlet in my life to express vulnerability. It may be a gross generalisation, but from my experience, some men do not have this option. I have met people who say they cannot openly express emotions because it would compromise their masculine identity and leave them vulnerable to threat.
I have worked with people who have harmed themselves and others. A common theme seems to be feeling threatened. Sometimes people learn to keep themselves safe by pushing others away through anger, aggression or physical strength. The image of strength becomes protective, and expressing pain would compromise this image. People learn to be ‘strong’ to survive, however this also reduces their ability to seek help and support. We live in a society where having human emotions or asking for help is sometimes still associated with ‘weakness’. Even people who have experienced trauma and abuse can feel ashamed for being in pain. I believe that this is one reason the suicide rate for men is so terrifyingly high.
I have learnt in my (still quite young) career, that sometimes the people that seem the most strong or even the most intimidating, are actually those carrying the most pain. I have been privileged to see people find the courage to express that pain, to face it head on and work through it with psychological support. In my opinion, this is an act of phenomenal bravery. Many of those people have been men. When we encourage people to seek support, it’s easy to forget how hard it is in the face of stigma. However, in light of mental health awareness week, I would like to add my voice to the many saying that if you are suffering you deserve help, no matter who you are.
If you or someone you know needs help for thoughts of suicide, please don’t suffer in silence
The NHS website has resources and links for help with suicidal thoughts:
This post was authored by Dr Kathleen (Kate) Green