While it’s too simplistic to claim that women are more in touch with their emotions and men bottle things up, there is an element of truth to the generalisation. Traditional gender norms within society dictate that men should aspire to be pillars of pragmatism and strength, while it’s more acceptable for a women to express emotions.
“I’m a big believer that we are conditioned by society and by our upbringing, and unfortunately, many men were brought up to believe that we shouldn’t talk about how we feel and that we should be able to handle tough emotions by ourselves,” says Euan Plater, founder Poste Media and XY, a weekly podcast that focuses on men’s mental health. “There’s also this belief that men are solution-led, so if we have a problem that doesn’t have an obvious solution, we don’t go for a chat and we don’t have a cry about it. In other words, we don’t process the emotions because we see the inability to solve the issue as a source of failure and shame.”
“It’s been 10 years since my stepdad died by suicide,” says Chloe Laws, GLAMOUR’s social media editor. “A big part of my childhood was spent growing up with someone who repeatedly tried to kill themselves.” Unfortunately, Chloe is one of thousands of people in the UK who have lost loved ones through suicide. According to The Samaritans, who conduct an annual Suicide Statistics Report, there were 6,859 suicides in 2018 in the UK Republic of Ireland, marking a 11.8% increase from the previous year. And while women are more likely to be diagnosed with certain mental health disorders like anxiety, men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women. “Even though we knew my stepdad was mentally ill, we never saw him cry and he never asked for help.”
In a global effort to dispel these harmful stereotypes, organisations and communities come together on 10th September to observe World Suicide Prevention Day. The aim of the day is to remove stigma and help to create a world where fewer people die by suicide because although attitudes are slowly changing for the better, with more people than ever sharing their experiences of mental health problems, there’s still a long way to go to. “In some ways, it’s more difficult to be a man today than ever before,” Euan says. “There’s this focus on happiness, like it should be the default state, and because people have opened up the conversation, men are thinking about whether or not they’re happy. The problem is, there aren’t necessarily the platforms to support them. Even when I was researching my podcast there was very little catering to men’s mental health in the mainstream media.”
That’s not to say there hasn’t been tangible progress. On the contrary, treatment and understanding has come a long way in the past few decades. There’s been a huge surge in funding and research into medication, with an array of new antidepressants now available, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (NRIs). There’s also a number of psychological therapies offered both privately and on the NHS, from more traditional talking therapies, to new developments like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
However, there’s little benefit to these developments if they aren’t communicated to those who need them. “I think education is key when it comes to suicide prevention,” says Chloe. “I wish I had known more about the symptoms and the treatment options, not just for my stepdad’s sake, but for my mum’s as well. Knowing what to look out for, what medications were available and how to be the best support would have made a big difference.”
There’s also charitable support services available to everyone. The Samaritans provides free, confidential, 24/7 support on their helpline (the phone number is 116 123) and they also provide guidance and advice to those experiencing suicidal feelings as well as those around them. Some of the signs that The Samaritans have flagged as worrying is if someone becomes withdrawn or tearful, starts using alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism or finds it hard to cope with every day life.
However, suicide isn’t a cookie-cutter illness, and people express a huge variety of symptoms, while some display none at all. In the case of Chloe’s stepdad, the symptoms he exhibited in the days prior to his death led the family to believe he was getting better. “He suddenly seemed more positive, and we were all optimistic,” she says. “It was only later that I learnt that this sudden change can be a precursor to suicide, when someone has made the decision to end their life and finally feel at peace. They can also want to say good bye in their own way – showing love and affection or leaving the house for the first time in years to be with people, which often comes across as a step towards recovery to the outsider. I wish we had known not to take this at face value.”