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  • 28 June 2023
  • 10 months

Effectively Preventing Suicide in Men

Anvita Janardhanan

MSc., PGD

Registered Psychotherapist

EAP Clinical Counsellor

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a crisis, please reach out immediately to the Suicide and Crisis Helpline (988) in the US or the Talk Suicide Line (1-833-456-4566) in Canada. 

Suicide has a ripple effect – it does not just affect the deceased. It impacts family, friends, and colleagues around them. It leaves loved ones with a lingering guilt and the question ‘Could I have done more?’ In addition to the grief of loss, near and dear ones are haunted by questions about the circumstances that led to the suicide.

Suicide in men, and men’s mental health in general is a topic that is often overlooked. Even so, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in men in Canada. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, over 200 people attempt suicide every day in Canada. Further, of the around 4000 deaths by suicide in Canada each year, 75 percent are men. These alarming numbers are found globally as well and have been further exacerbated by the pandemic and other socio-economic challenges. Further, the Mental Health Commission notes that when compared to non-indigenous male youth, suicide attempts are 10 times higher among male Inuit youth.

The causes and risk factors for suicide in men are complex and multilayered. Emotional vulnerability is often discouraged in men, and their masculinity is often tied to how well they “keep it together,” or how emotionally “self-reliant” they are. These gender norms are knowingly or unknowingly carried within many men and can often impede help-seeking behavior even in crises. Individuals are encouraged to ‘snap out’ or ‘man up.’ Rather than being heard, supported, and understood, men are forced to bottle up their feelings and pretend like they are doing fine.

Factors such as economic uncertainty, job loss, financial stressors, breakdown in relationships, divorce, and workplace bullying can contribute to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. This is associated with increased suicide risk.

Lived experiences such as traumatic events, childhood trauma, abuse, discrimination, intimate partner violence and loneliness are known to be associated with a higher risk for suicide. Intimate partner relationships where men experience financial, emotional or physical abuse impact not only mental wellbeing but also impede attempts to seek help due to shame and isolation.

Suicidal thoughts are often perceived as ‘something wrong with a person’ rather than a symptom of an illness. Most people would not hesitate to consult a doctor for an injury or an illness but often hesitate when mental wellbeing is at stake. Severe depression and anxiety are often accompanied by suicidal thoughts. It is a known fact that suicide can be prevented when addressed in a timely manner and with the right support from mental health professionals.

What can men do to protect themselves?

The first and most important step would be to seek support from a mental health professional.

Fostering meaningful and engaging relationships can act as a protective factor against depression, anxiety, and loneliness. These relationships can provide vital support in distressing times.

It is also necessary to re-examine and modify beliefs and values about gender roles, if necessary. Do they believe they can express concerns and seek support? Do they associate help-seeking with weakness? Would they advocate the same approach for their son/nephew/brother/friend?

Another vital aspect to remember is that feelings are just feelings – not facts. While the future may feel hopeless and full of despair, it may not be an accurate representation of the facts of the situation.

Men could also benefit by learning healthy ways of regulating and managing emotions. Being open and willing to read about mental health and wellbeing and practising healthier coping tools regularly to better navigate through difficult emotions.

Investing time and energy in engaging and productive activities outside of work is also a protective factor. Oftentimes, work and career become the central focus, leading to higher chances of burnout and a lack of opportunities to recuperate.

Lastly, engaging in preventive strategies like setting appropriate boundaries, engaging in self-care, reducing or eliminating substance use, getting adequate sleep, and incorporating stress management techniques can significantly improve mental wellbeing and reduce the risk of suicidal thoughts.

What can loved ones do to help a man struggling with suicidal thoughts?

  • Notice signs like increased irritability, increased substance use, decreased interest, lack of motivation, social withdrawal, decreased appetite and sleep disturbances. Offer support and ask if the person is experiencing suicidal thoughts. Remember that asking if someone has suicidal thoughts DOES NOT ‘give them ideas.’ It may, however, give them an opening to express deep and dark thoughts they would have otherwise kept to themselves.
  • Provide a non-judgemental space to talk about a person’s feelings without jumping in to “fix” the problem. Sometimes, all a person needs is to be heard and understood.
  • Identify and modify unhealthy gender role expectations. For example, some helpful questions for loved ones may be: if a man in my life were to cry or express vulnerability, would that make me uncomfortable? Do I expect that the ‘man of the house’ should be the ‘strong one in a crisis?’ It can be helpful to reframe these perspectives.
  • Learn to stay calm. Don’t panic. Learning that a loved one is thinking about ending their life can create fear and panic. However, reacting in fear may cause more distress to yourself and your loved one. Avoid saying things like, “But why? You have such a good life!” Instead of tuning into your fears, tune into your loved one’s emotions. Acknowledge how hard it must be for them to experience these thoughts and to share them. Offer support and ask them what they need.
  • If you feel comfortable, encourage your loved one to create a safety plan with a mental health professional. If needed, you can also create a safety plan with them. A safety plan consists of a plan of action for the loved one to follow in case the suicidal thoughts become overwhelming for them to manage. This can include identifying “triggers” (situations/thoughts/feelings) that may be predecessors to suicidal thoughts. Next, discuss what helps them cope with the suicidal thoughts – talking to someone, distracting themselves with music or engaging in a physical activity like walking or going to the gym. Safety plans also include phone numbers for immediate support, like the number for their Employee Assistance Program, the Suicide and Crisis Helpline(988) in the US or the Talk Suicide Line (1-833-456-4566) in Canada.

What organizations can do to help:

Organizations can help through the creation of awareness campaigns and enabling training for suicide prevention. Employee Assistance Programs with 24×7 availability make accessing mental health support possible. Further, it may be helpful to train individual wellbeing ambassadors within organizations to watch for signs of declining wellbeing in employees. Lastly, organizations can promote and encourage help-seeking as part of workplace culture.

Suicidal thoughts can be very debilitating, but ultimately, most people do not want to die, they want their pain to go away. With the support and professional help, the pain can be addressed, and life can be worth living again.

Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family, and personal needs to become healthier, happier, and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class employee support, effectiveness, and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals, and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care and stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. Contact us to learn more. 

This content is intended for general information only. It does not provide specific direction, advice, or recommendations. You may wish to contact an appropriate professional for questions concerning your particular situation.

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