Suicide accounts for more than 1 million deaths worldwide every year, which roughly works out as one death by means of suicide every forty seconds. According to statistics collected by the World Health Organisation, men in the UK are almost three times more likely than women to commit suicide. Per 100,000 men, 17.7 will commit suicide in the UK each year, compared to just 5.4 women.
Of course, these statistics don’t take into account that not every suicide attempt is successful. It is estimated that for every person who manages to commit suicide, roughly twenty attempt to do so and fail. Ominously, suicide seems to be on the rise. According to PR Newswire, the number of attempts by young men to take their own lives has doubled in developed nations over the last ten years.
“While suicide clearly affects people from all social demographics and of all ages, it is widely acknowledged that young men, particularly those in their twenties, are the most likely people to commit suicide.”
This statistic is not necessarily the case in the UK, which saw a fall in the suicide rate amongst males between 1998 (a year that saw a record high in suicides amongst this group) and 2007. However, when the recession first hit in 2008, suicide levels amongst men rose once more, jumping up by 6% in one year, according to the Office of National Statistics.
While suicide clearly affects people from all social demographics and of all ages, it is widely acknowledged that young men, particularly those in their twenties, are the most likely people to commit suicide. It is a worrying thought that, during what is often considered to be their prime years, young men should be driven to taking such drastic action as taking their own lives so often. There is no simple explanation for this phenomenon, though many studies and much research has been conducted that cast a light on some of the reasons for this.
Doctor Ciaran Mulholland, in an article for Net Doctor, suggests there are four main reasons for a peak in suicides in this age group: less financial independence until a later age, the struggle men face in matching women in their academic pursuits, a less secure work environment due to economic pressures, and a rise in alcohol and drug use as a means of combatting stress.
It is certainly true that men face a far tougher time than previous generations in navigating what is a tricky period of everyone’s lives. Statistics prove that there is a definite gap in academic achievement between boys and girls at school level, a gap that, while closing, still remains a problem, particularly when matched with parents’ expectations. With rising tuition fees resulting in a higher graduate debt, students are far more reliant on their parents and the state for financial security until a far later age than in previous generations. Couple this with the very real spectre of unemployment following University and it is no wonder that many students feel under pressure to get the right grades, or face being labelled as a failure.
Of course, many of these stresses can quite obviously be applied to young women as well as young men. So why are there such disparities in the suicide rate? Psychotherapist Lucy Beresford believes that much of it can be explained by biology, “When women are under pressure, talking about it and expressing their feelings releases the hormone oxytocin, which makes them feel better. Men don’t get that response [as] their levels of oxytocin are naturally lower”.
Bob Ellis, writing for ABC News, believes that the higher percentage of young men taking their own lives comes down to the way society perceives men, “Men have images of themselves as conqueror, provider, breadwinner, local hero… which, if they fail at, darken their mood. There are so many things to fail at, so many promises to keep, that the gun in the drawer comes to mind pretty frequently”.
It is a fact that is often ignored, but male perception and self-image is shaped just as much by media and social pressures as it is for females. The very same societal factors that can drive many women to anorexia and depression, as well as many other mental and physical health conditions, are no doubt as important in explaining why young men commit suicide. There are so many highly successful role models that the modern man can measure himself up to – think Nelson Mandela, Mark Zuckerberg or David Beckham – that it is hardly surprising that many become disillusioned with how their lives are turning out by comparison.
What is certainly true is that men often feel unable to talk to anybody about their problems for fear that they will be perceived as weak and as failures. Statistics show that 80% of women who commit suicide have previously consulted a doctor and received treatment for depression before their deaths. By comparison, only 50% of men seek help before committing suicide, and this number drops to a mere 20% in men under 25. This can, at least in part, be explained by the false perception, particularly from some corners of the media, that depression is simply something that people should just get over, and that it is not actually a disease at all (Janet Street-Porter’s article for the Daily Mail last year is a particularly hateful example of this). This is simply not true. Depression is a real disease and it can be treated to an extent; medical help is available for those that are suffering.
What’s more, there is far more than just medical help available for young men struggling with the pressures of life and considering suicide. CALM, which stands for ‘Campaign Against Living Miserably’, has a fantastic website which contains articles, advice and support for young men suffering in the UK. It also produces a fortnightly magazine called Reset, which can be found online and at Topman stores across the country.
The University also offers services that can help those feeling like they have nowhere to turn. The student run service Nightline runs a confidential listening service between 7pm and 8am every night during term time on (0115) 9514985 as well as an e-listening service, which can provide information, offer suggestions for seeking further help, or even just act as a friendly, empathetic listener with whom problems can be discussed.
What is true is that society needs to changes its perceptions about young men. Boys do cry; we often suffer from the unrealistic expectations of a society that thinks we as a gender do not need emotional and practical support to be successful. We need to be open enough to admit this if we are to help the sizeable minority of young men for whom the prospect of suicide is a very real danger. What’s more, we need to encourage those who are depressed to look for other alternatives to suicide. There is help out there.