The men’s mental health crisis Australia can no longer ignore — six male suicides a day
SOMETHING is very wrong with Australian men. And today, six blokes across the country will take their own lives as a result.
OCTOBER 10, 2018 10:05 AM
TODAY in Australia, six men will take their own lives.
They’re from both the bush and the city, young and old, and span various industries, socio-economic statuses and backgrounds.
But the one thing they have in common is that almost all will leave behind grief-struck family, friends and colleagues who had no idea they were struggling.
That’s because men who die by suicide are significantly less likely to have sought help, SANE Australia chief executive Jack Heath said.
“In terms of people engaging with our support services, the ratio is three women for every man,” Mr Heath said.
Despite campaigns aimed at men’s mental health and enormous efforts to reduce the stigma attached to suicide, there’s still something holding Aussie blokes back from reaching out.
And the outcomes of that are alarming.
In 2017, the number of deaths from intentional self harm was 3128. Of those lives lost, 75 per cent — or 2349 — were men, according to the Bureau of Statistics.
Today is World Mental Health Day and news.com.au is launching its campaign The silent killer: Let’s make some noise to highlight men’s mental health issues in support of Gotcha4Life and Movember.
Gotcha4Life is dedicated to an in-school program helping educate young men about resilience and the importance of friendships, and runs a scholarship program with Lifeline to train more males counsellors.
While mental health is an issue across the community — there was a nine per cent increase in the number of suicides of both men and women last year — men are three times more likely to take their own lives. There is a gender imbalance and news.com.au believes this could potentially be changed.
Suicide is the leading cause of death in Australian men aged 15 to 44 — more than double the national road toll.
“It’s incredibly concerning, the over-representation of men in suicide statistics,” Mr Heath said.
“When you look at the suicide rates for women, they peak in the late teens and are pretty consistent over the course of a lifetime. There’s a slight increase in the late 40s but it’s pretty much a flat line across all age groups.
“But when you look at the statistics for men, they go well beyond where women are.
“They steadily climb from the mid to late 20s and peak in the early 50s. They drop off and flat line from there, up until men reach their 80s when they increase again.”
What this tells experts is that men struggle with various different factors depending on their stage of life, but don’t seek help when things get tough.
“Obviously there’s something happening coming into adulthood, big issues in middle age — I’d say around divorce or separation — and again in late life.”
As well as not asking for help when feeling suicidal, a staggering 72 per cent of men don’t seek help for mental health disorders.
Instead, research shows most turn to alcohol, drugs, gambling or other unhealthy activities in a bid to cope with their emotions.
Before joining SANE Australia, Mr Heath worked for the youth-focused mental health organisation Reach Out.
He was part of a tour across Australia, visiting more than 300 schools, and noticed an intriguing pattern.
“If you had a man and a woman presenting, the numbers of young people putting their hand up to share their experiences would be three times more girls than boys,” Mr Heath recalled.
“But when you had two men going in to do the school presentations, it was a 50-50 split.”
It demonstrates that men will often “adopt the behaviours of other men”, he said.
“There’s a notion around men almost needing to have permission to seek help, or needing to see other men seeking help before they will.”
Tailoring the mental health and suicide conversation to men is critical.
The still-ingrained notions of what it means to be a man in Australia are powerful, Mr Heath said.
“In this country we still have quite dominant ideas of what it means to be a man. It’s putting up with things and pushing through, a sense of stoicism.
“There’s also a tendency to share things less so. And I don’t want to over-generalise but there is perhaps a tendency to be less introspective than women.”
While the statistics are horrifying and paint a picture of a crisis, Mr Heath said there are some signs of change.
“Suicide is a very complex issue with lots of contributing factors. The conversation and the way we talk about things is changing for the better but we’ve still got a long way to go.”
Organisations such as Gotcha4Life and Movember are supporting programs directed specifically at men and agree that the approach needs to be different.
“If you’ve got a soulmate who’s a wife, a mate or girlfriend, talking to her is wonderful but a lot of men find it difficult to be vulnerable in front of anyone, let alone a woman,” Gotcha4Life co-founder Gus Worland told news.com.au. “That’s why we have a focus on men supporting men.”
Mr Worland and his friend Gareth Pike co-founded Gotcha4Life to encourage men to identify those people in their lives who they could have deeper conversations with when faced with life crises.
“You’ve got to have someone in your life that you can talk to, warts and all,” he said. “Someone you can have a discussion with about anything and know that you won’t be judged. That person may not have an answer but you will have their heart and their ear, and it will allow you to get stuff off your chest.”