Last week, I was contacted by Michelle, who lives in Barnsley. Two years ago, her estranged husband – who was just 45 – committed suicide. His death left Michelle and their two sons heartbroken. Sadly, stories like this are all too common.
As a society, we have made a great deal of progress in understanding mental health. Schools, colleges, and workplaces now put more emphasis on mental health and achieving parity of esteem with physical health in the NHS is seen as a national priority.
But despite this, the biggest killer for men under the age of 45 is suicide. Every week in our country, 84 men take their own lives and 75% of all suicides are men.
Suicide is not only a personal tragedy but has a devastating impact on families and communities. In most cases it is also preventable. The reality is that most people who commit suicide do not want to die but are driven to suicide by feelings of despair and hopelessness.
Many people will have had suicidal thoughts at one time or another. They are most common at times of trauma or loss, or when we have suffered personal or professional rejection. But sometimes we might just be upset or angry for no understandable reason at all.
Men and boys are particularly vulnerable to these feelings. From a young age, we are taught to be ashamed of showing weakness and that we must always be in control of our lives. This traditional concept of masculinity could partly explain why the suicide rate is so much higher among men. And it raises serious questions about how we are brought up.
We all want to raise our children to be resilient. This is only natural given the challenges that we face during our lives. But we also need to make sure they know that it is acceptable to not be all right and that there is nothing wrong with talking about it.
It is also incredibly important that people feel like they can ask for help. There is still a stigma about seeking formal emotional support which prevents a lot of men from coming forward until it is too late. We need to raise awareness that there is support available and that it is not a sign of weakness in seeking it out.
ITV recently joined with the suicide prevention charity CALM to promote Project 84, which highlights male mental health. 84 sculptures were unveiled on ITV buildings in London, each representing one of the men who commit suicide every week. I hope that initiatives like this will help start a conversation about male suicide. It is very important that we work towards a system of better suicide prevention and support for those suffering bereavement.
Male suicide and mental health is an issue which has been ignored for too long. We need to start talking about it because doing so could save lives. So please don’t be afraid to talk to a family member or friend if you are worried about them. You can also join the campaign to make this a national priority by visiting the website www.projecteightfour.com and signing their petition.
But most importantly don’t forget that if you need someone to talk to then you can get in touch with CALM on 0800 585858 or The Samaritans on 116 123. There is no need to suffer in silence so please seek support if you need it.
This article was first published in the Barnsley Chronicle.