Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45, men are still three times more likely to take their own lives than women.
A man’s mental health has long-been one of the biggest taboos in conversation. That failure to encourage conversation for so long has led to so many people paying the ultimate price.
There is no set of circumstances that can account for these kinds of feelings. The same way any other medical condition can have a range of contributing factors, a person’s mental state is no different.
For any other medical condition we’re encouraged to seek help, there are clear guidelines for how to treat a physical injury. Employers offer clear procedures for when a person is off sick… As long as it’s a visible kind of sick.
When I was younger I could never imagine any of the men in my life, be it family or friends, struggling emotionally. It wouldn’t even cross my mind. Go back ten years and a man’s mental wellbeing was never openly discussed, at least not in the mainstream anyway.
By my late teens, I began to realise how dark a place a man’s mind could be. My dad used to rent a room to a young guy from Poland named Adrian, he was one of the nicest, most hardworking people I’d ever come across. He would work stupid hours and send pretty much every bit of money he earned back home to his family.
One day he went missing.
My dad got a call from his parents back in Poland telling him that he had flown home and tried to take his own life. He’d found out his wife, who was pregnant with his second kid, had been having an affair while he was over in England working.
Thankfully his attempt was unsuccessful, though this was my first real glimpse into how a person could hit rock bottom, with no view of escaping it.
Adrian had become part of our family, my mum and dad had split up, and that’s what led to him renting the room. We watched TV together, played football together, went to the pub together. Not once did he show any kind of sign that he was even remotely down, never mind on the verge of something so drastic.
My next experience came when my dad fell extremely ill, leaving him permanently disabled with a fraction of the brainpower that he once had. Once again I witnessed another man, this time the most important one in my life, hit rock bottom.
I heard my dad say things that no one should ever hear their parents say. Sure a lot of medication could account for the things that were being muttered, though to this day he stands by the things he said lying in that hospital bed.
That period undoubtedly had a huge knock-on effect in my own mental health. It still does.
My dad’s illness had struck during my final year of university, barely ideal timing. I had watched someone who I had often looked up to, a loud-mouthed character who was genuinely terrifying if anyone was to cross him, reduced to an incoherent and emotional wreck that couldn’t even recognise me when I walked into his hospital ward.
When that’s all written down, it barely comes a surprise that I began to struggle myself. I fell into the very same trap of believing I couldn’t be open about how much of an effect that had on me. Who knows why?
I wanted to seem stronger than I was for my mum, for my two younger sisters and probably for myself too. It’s a very lonely place to find yourself in.
For months I didn’t even tell anyone about what was happening, which is ridiculous considering how unbelievably helpful my mates were when I spoke to them about it. I was at university, I was meeting new people and thought I was meant to be having the time of my life.
Accepting a doctor’s advice of starting a course of anti-depressants felt like a gut-wrenching defeat, like I had failed everyone around me who had shown me nothing but support.
That’s three experiences of a male falling victim to their own mind under three completely different sets of circumstances.
Yes, we have gotten much better at covering the importance of being more open about our mental health. In fact male suicide is at its lowest in 30 years. That doesn’t mean the work is done though.
The harrowing fact is that suicide is still one of the leading causes of death amongst men in the world. That’s why charities like CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) are so important in leading the discussion.
Not just charities either, the media industry as a whole have a responsibility to encourage anyone struggling with their own demons to seek the help they need.
“Recent years have seen a huge shift in the amount of discussion around mental health. Attitudes are beginning to change, and we saw the knock-on effect of that with the recent ONS report showing a reduction in the rate of male suicide. But we still have a long way to go.”
“If you can, tell someone you trust. Someone you know who will listen and take you seriously, and don’t worry about how it comes out. I feel sh*t” will do to start things off.
This first step of talking about it can be the hardest, but the overwhelming majority of people we speak to say it was a relief to let somebody know, and that they got a really positive response.
Writing some thoughts down can be a good place to start, just getting some words out onto a page can help to clarify things, and makes it easier to speak about it when you’re ready.” – Paul Shiels, Communications Manager, CALM