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Why are men at risk of suicide?
Middle-aged men (40-60) die by suicide more than anyone else, including young people and women (Statistics Canada, 2019).
Men are often socialized not to talk about their emotions, and therefore, men as a group may mask their stress and deal with emotional pain through harmful behaviours and actions, and sometimes suicide, instead of seeking help (Ogrodnickzuk & Oliffe, 2011).
What to Expect
This resource is an introduction to men and suicide. You’ll learn about statistics, warning signs, why men are more at risk, and how suicide can be prevented. You’ll also learn how to have a conversation with someone you’re worried about. If you know someone who is thinking about suicide, or if you’re thinking about suicide, call your local crisis line. In Canada, call 1-833-456-4566.
In Canada, in 2018, there were 3,811 suicides. 2,880 of these suicides were male.
Men aged 45–65 have the highest number of suicides. In 2018 there were 1,125.
Women attempt suicide 4x more often than men, but men die by suicide 3x more often than women.
• Not showing up to events they used to enjoy
• Giving away items they value
• Texting, calling, visiting less often
• Being less present and engaged in conversation
• Sleeping more, even during the daytime, or being restless and having trouble sleeping
• Eating less and losing weight, or eating excessively and putting on weight
Men who are reluctant to seek help tend to bear the burden all alone. Everyone needs support from others at certain times in their lives.
Men who were raised with the idea that showing any sign of emotion is a “weakness” are more likely to hide their emotions, which can become overwhelming and may lead them to a point of crisis.
On the flip side, men who are more likely to reach out to someone when they’re struggling can find support more easily and can better cope with negative circumstances than those who do not.
Men who have embraced their emotions and the importance of sharing them with others are better able to cope, as they are more likely to deal with their emotions before they become overwhelming.
Relationships provide a safety net when men are thinking about suicide, because those people are there to offer help and to be asked for help.
(Houle, Mishara & Chagnon, 2008; American Psychological Association, 2005)
Masculinity and suicide
Canadian society celebrates masculine qualities – and why not? There is much to be celebrated. However, sometimes these qualities can overwhelm and consume the men they define.
Masculine qualities, like feminine qualities, are neither positive nor negative in and of themselves, but the expectations they attract and the way they shape a person’s behaviour can affect the person’s wellbeing.
From an early age, for example, boys are often told to hold back their tears and men are told to “suck it up” when dealing with life’s pressures: “take it like a man.” Toughness and stoicism are expected; emotional vulnerability is seen as a blemish on their manhood.
These societal expectations may discourage men from seeking help when they encounter mental health adversities and instead can drive them to destructive coping strategies. This can put men at greater risk for increased substance use, risk-taking behaviours, anger and frustration, and, too often, suicide (Seager et al., 2014; Ogrodniczuk & Oliffe, 2011).
How can suicide in men be prevented?
As a society, we must get better at reaching out to men.
Partners and coworkers can be alert to the warning signs of suicide in the men in their lives. If a man is becoming more irritable, for example, this is a sign to his partner and coworkers that he’s struggling.
Individually, we can create a safe space, through open, non-judgmental conversation and gentle questioning for men to share and express emotions. If you’re worried about someone, reach out. See “How to talk to someone you’re worried about.”
We can model to everyone, children and adults, that emotions are not gendered, and that it is okay, and even necessary, to show and express emotion and ask for help when it’s needed. One way we can do this is by showing and expressing our own emotions and being honest when people ask us how we’re doing. We can also have more meaningful conversations with people by asking, “How are you really doing?” if we think they may be struggling.
Men need to know where they can find help – we as individuals can provide information to people we think may be struggling.
Workplaces can make the resources available to their employees easily accessible by communicating their existence and ensuring access is confidential. Find out more about what workplaces can do with our toolkit on workplace suicide prevention.
Doctors and others in the healthcare system can play a role in identifying men who may be thinking about suicide. As men may be less likely to directly discuss any issues they may be having, clinicians need to become adept at reading body language, tone of voice, and other physical cues to indicate that the man they’re speaking with may be struggling. Health professionals need to be better trained in detecting depression among men, which can often result in emotions such as anger or actions like excessive drinking (Ogrodnickzuk & Oliffe, 2011; Paraschakis, Michopoulos, Christoduolou, Koutsaftis & Douzenis, 2016).
What Can Men Do?
Men can maintain life-saving social connections by prioritizing friendships and good relationships with their loved ones. They can participate in peer support programs at school, in the workplace, or in the community. Social engagement such as joining a sports team or a music group can create belonging and connectedness for men and prompt interaction with other men who have similar interests, experiences, or struggles.
Men who are struggling with thoughts of suicide may find that asking for and receiving help is not easy. Finding ways to lessen the intensity of these thoughts may take time. Be courageous. Be persistent – help is available.
Tough Enough to Talk About It
This is a program for men working in trades, industry, and agriculture. The program features males who have dealt with stress, depression, suicidal behaviours, or loss from suicide.
Man Therapy is an interactive website that encourages men to address their mental health and to seek help for themselves if necessary. Men can interact with a therapist, do a self-assessment, and get mental health tips. The website refers users to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA) and/or a list of professional mental health providers.
This is a website with information and resources to encourage help seeking among men at risk for depression and suicide.
Next Gen Men
Next Gen Men is working towards a future where boys & men experience less pain, and cause less harm by promoting positive masculinities, mental wellness, healthy relationships, and gender equality in schools, communities, and workplaces across Canada.
DUDES Clubs are spaces that facilitate a participant-led community for men’s wellness, which prioritize supportive relationships, engagement in health care, and an Indigenous world view.
Men’s sheds are community-based organizations that provide a safe and friendly environment for men to learn practical skills, develop new interests, work on meaningful projects (e.g., carpentry, restoring bicycles for a local school, gardening, art), connect with other men, and talk about their problems. Some Men’s Sheds incorporate visits from health care professionals and access to men’s health literature.
To gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of men and suicide, we’ve compiled a recommended reading list on the topic, which is available on our website.
Paul Links, MD, FRCP(C), Professor, Psychiatry & Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University
John Oliffe, PhD, RN, Professor, Canada Research Chair in Men’s Health Promotion, and Founder and Lead of the UBC Men’s Health Research Program
American Association of Suicidology. (2018). Know the Warning Signs of Suicide. Retrieved from http://www.suicidology.org/resources/warning-signs
American Psychological Association. (2005). Men: A different depression. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/research/action/men.aspx
Canetto, S., & Sakinofsky, I. (1998). The gender paradox in suicide. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 28(1), 1-23.
Houle, J., Mishara, B., & Chagnon, F. (2008). An empirical test of a mediation model of the impact of the traditional male gender role on suicidal behavior in men. Journal of Affective Disorders, 107(1-3), 37-43.
Ogrodniczuk, J.S., & Oliffe, J. L. (2011). Men and depression. Canadian Family Physician, 57(2),153-155.
Paraschakis, A., Michopoulos, I., Christoduolou, C., Koutsaftis, F., & Douzenis, A. (2016). Psychiatric medication intake in suicide victims: Gender disparities and implications for suicide prevention. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 61(6), 1660-1663.
Seager, M., Sullivan, L. & Barry, J. (2014). Gender-related schemas and validation of the male and female gender scripts questionnaire. New Male Studies: An International Journal, 3(3), 34-54.
Statistics Canada. (2019) Table 13-10-0392-01 Deaths and age-specific mortality rates, by selected grouped causes [CANSIM Database]. Retrieved 31 October 2019 from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1310039201