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Why We're Losing So Many Men to Suicide – and What We Can Do About It

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In the United States, there are an average 117 suicides per day.

In 2014, 7 out of 10 of those deaths were men.

For many years now, this has been a theme: Men take their own lives at a rate nearly four times more than women. Suicide is the seventh leading cause of death for males. The rising suicide rates in men has been called an “epidemic” in both medical journals and newspapers alike.

What’s even more troubling in light of these statistics, is that men are still half as likely to be diagnosed with depression than women. This means that although men are hurting, they aren’t reaching out and aren’t receiving proper treatment.

We spoke to Dr. John Oliffe, founder and lead investigator of the University of British Columbia’s Men’s Health Research program, to explore some of the reasons why suicide rates are so high among men, and learn what we can do to support men in our lives who need to know it’s OK to reach out for help.

Here are some potential factors:

1. Symptoms of depression can be harder to see in men.

Dr. Oliffe explained that even when men do seek help, they often present symptoms we don’t generally associate with depression.

“Irritability, alcohol overuse, getting into violent situations. Those can be depressive symptoms in a man,” he said. “Even as clinicians, we don’t think of that.”

This isn’t to say men never cry or show what may be considered “stereotypical” symptoms, but it does mean it’s easier for warning signs to slip through the cracks. Dr. Oliffe said he’s found in his research men themselves have a hard time identifying when they’re depressed, and when interviewed, will rarely use the word “depression,” opting for “stressed.” 

According to HeadsUpGuys, an online resource for men facing depression and their loved ones, other signs of depression include significant weight change, loss in concentration, reckless behavior and physical pain like backaches and headaches — signs easy to overlook for those who think depression is just sadness.

2. If men are uncomfortable expressing their emotions, they’re more likely to isolate.

If a man feels like he has to be “strong” — and therefore not vulnerable — he may begin to isolate himself instead of opening up. This is especially dangerous, considering lack of connectedness is a risk factor for a suicide attempt. 

“It’s not just the lonely guy in the corner,” Dr. Oliffe explained. “They can have people around them, they’re just not connected.”

3. Men are more likely to attempt suicide using lethal means.

When attempting suicide, men are more likely than woman to use lethal means. One study found that 62 percent of males, versus 40 percent of females, used hanging or firearms in their suicidal actions. This means for every suicide attempt, it’s more likely a man will actually die.

All men are different. But if you have a man in your life you’re worried about, here are some things Dr. Oliffe said might help:

Don’t take away his sense of control: If a man is refusing to seek help, Dr. Oliffe suggests reaching out to him in a non-confrontational way. Encourage him to seek help in a way that gives him control over the situation.

Find him a community: Dr. Oliffe suggests offering alternatives to traditional pathways of receiving support. If a man refuses to see a doctor, maybe there’s a community-based service in your area you can point him to.

Follow-up: Recovery is a process, and just because a guy reached out for help and is acting more like “himself,” doesn’t mean there won’t be pitfalls. Continue to be supportive and patient throughout his recovery. There often isn’t an easy, quick fix.

Educate him about depression and mental illness: Depression and other mental illnesses aren’t weaknesses. It doesn’t make someone “less of a man.” Encourage him to learn about biological causes of depression. Point him to online resources like HeadsUpGuys, where real men are championing the conversation about depression.

Because the conversation about suicide needs to change. And it start with us.

To see more work from Dr. John Oliffe, check out his project Man Up Against Suicide, which is funded by the Movember Foundation.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Originally published: March 3, 2016
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