Suicide in Men: the Silent Killer

Did you know that suicide is the leading cause of death in men between the ages of 40 and 60 in Canada? Why are suicide rates among men so high?

Although there have been moves to bring awareness to this issue and to open the discussion, the numbers of suicides in men are still worrisome. One possible explanation is that from a very young age many males are taught that expressing emotion, being vulnerable, or asking for help is not socially acceptable. As a result, when they become adults, men who have absorbed this perception may feel uncomfortable reaching out for help, because doing so is “weak” or “unmasculine.” Vulnerability is seen as negative, and this way of thinking can be deadly.

While statistics show that women are more likely to attempt suicide, more men actually die from their suicide attempts. This is because men are more likely to use more lethal methods than women, and women are more likely to reach out for help. Other risk factors for males are addiction and substance abuse, educational drop out, unemployment, and loneliness, all of which disproportionately affect men and boys.

In 2018, Ipsos MORI surveyed 1,000 Canadian men between the ages of 18 and 75. According to their survey, 28% said they were afraid of losing their job if they talked about their mental health struggles at work, and 42% were worried that their colleagues would criticize or judge them if they mentioned their mental health. This means that those men were less likely to reach out for help. This fear of judgment or negative repercussion leads a lot of men to suffer in silence.

The Centre for Suicide Prevention, a Canadian education centre based in Calgary and a branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, provides an excellent list of suicide warning signs in men:

  • Loss of interest in activities that they used to enjoy
  • Becoming more isolated from friends and family
  • Increased irritability and anger
  • Changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Increased risk-taking
  • Denying feeling emotions or not experiencing them at all
  • Hopelessness and comments about being a burden
  • Talking about suicide or about wanting to die

If you notice that someone in your life is displaying any of these warning signs, don’t be afraid to start a conversation. You might want to say something like, “I’ve noticed some changes in your behaviour, and I wanted to check in to see if you are doing okay. If you need someone to talk to, I am here.” They might not want to open up right away, but don’t be afraid to let them 
 know that they have your support. If you believe that they are in imminent danger and that they have concrete plans to hurt or kill themselves, call 911.

There is nothing unmasculine or shameful about expressing emotions or asking for help. Having discussions about mental health and expressing your concern if you feel someone you know is at risk of attempting suicide are good steps toward destigmatizing and preventing suicide.

– Gabrielle Lesage

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As seen in the Spring 2022 newsletter