Middle-aged men in the UK and Ireland experience higher suicide rates than any other groups, a fact that has persisted for decades.
Inequality is a key element of understanding why this group are at increased risk of suicide. We know it is very likely that the long-term effects of coronavirus will affect those already socially and economically disadvantaged.
Previous research has shown that men who are less well-off and living in the most deprived areas are up to 10 times more likely to die by suicide than more well-off men from affluent areas. In addition, we know that this group are also more vulnerable to the adverse effects of economic recession, including suicide risk, than women.
How will Covid-19 affect middle-aged men?
The impact of Covid-19 will be devastating for many people. Our research tells us that some of the negative life events that may be experienced because of coronavirus are risk factors for suicide among middle-aged men. These include social isolation, emotional distress or poor mental health, and job loss.
Jobs have been affected in many ways, including; a drop in income for those placed on the furlough scheme, sudden job loss with 600,000 jobs lost during lockdown, and no work for those who are self-employed or on zero-hour contracts. The increase in unemployment is concerning as there is a significantly higher rate of suicide among unemployed, compared to employed people. The potential increase in debt and bankruptcy are also risk factors.
What is Samaritans seeing during Covid-19?
We have seen an increase of 35% in emails from men during lockdown compared to the same time last year.
What do we know from our conversations with men during lockdown?
In our conversations with men during lockdown there were three key themes:
Many men have felt they have no one to talk to, couldn’t turn to friends and had lost support from their families, or didn’t want to ‘be a burden’ to those close to them. During the first three months of lockdown, 3 in 10 contacts to Samaritans from men included concerns about loneliness or isolation, up 20% compared to the same time last year. Among men who were specifically concerned about Covid-19, loneliness or isolation rises to be a concern in almost half (46%) of contacts from men.
They have missed social interaction and activities (eg, support groups, gym), especially if they lived alone. Some were using drugs and alcohol to cope with loneliness, and some felt their hygiene and diet had slipped.
Financial or unemployment concerns came up in 1 in 10 contacts from men who were specifically concerned about Covid-19. Men have talked about feelings of fear and uncertainty about the future, losing their standard of living, having to claim benefits, and not being able to provide for their family and pay the bills, especially the mortgage. Job insecurity, fear of job loss and redundancy or losing their business for the self-employed were key concerns.
During the first three months of lockdown, family concerns have been raised in one in four contacts from men. Men were concerned about keeping their families safe (especially older relatives), being able to provide for them, and relationship breakdown. Those who lived away from family or didn’t have access to their children were missing that contact.
As the UK and Ireland moves out of lockdown and into an economic slump, we are concerned about the impact this will have on known risk factors for suicide for men.
We know there's still a stigma around men seeking help when they're struggling, so we launched Real People, Real Stories to remind men that when life is tough, we're here to listen.