Our strategy to help men at risk of suicide needs a radical rethink

To tackle the high rates of male suicide we need a radical rethink of the way we look at masculinity, says leading academic and suicide researcher Professor Rory O’Connor. 

Teaching emotional literacy and resilience from an early age, promoting a variety of relevant role models from different backgrounds to young men, and involving them in developing support that they find easy to relate to, would be steps in the right direction, said Rory, of Glasgow University.*

Part of the solution is reframing what it is to be a man and successful; men are expected to fit into a very narrow definition which doesn’t leave much room for manoeuvre, even in these supposedly more tolerant days, said Rory of Glasgow University, speaking on International Men’s Day.

Too many men still measure themselves against this: rich, powerful, competitive, in control and never vulnerable. The growth of social perfectionism has also caused problems. It is characterised by men trying to live up to the unrealistic expectations that they think others have of them – and feeling a failure if they fall short.

Tackling the unacceptably high rates of male suicide in the UK**is a priority for Samaritans. DEAL (developing emotional awareness and listening) aims to help young people in secondary schools deal with challenges and encourages them to seek help if they are struggling. http://www.samaritans.org/your-community/supporting-schools/deal-teaching-resources

 “We need to be careful not to blame men for social perfectionism, and regarding therapy, we should not expect one model to fit all men,” said Rory. “We might need to go to them to engage them, go to where men socialise rather than expecting them to go to clinical services.

“We also need to understand better – beyond the clichés – what the barriers are which prevent men from reaching out and seeking help,” Rory added. Men are more likely to wait until they have reached crisis point, which may be too late.

 “Arguably, in the last 20 years women’s roles have become less rigid, which gives them more flexibility. The same thing has not happened for men. Many men struggle with the move away from the traditional male role, trying to meet other people’s expectations of them, and, for too many, they feel that they are failing; they are often ashamed and feel trapped,” Rory said.

Being more proactive could make a real difference to male suicide rates; it is not just a case of getting individual men to speak out, or giving them the permission to do so. We also need to better understand what support services men would like, said Rory. 


For more information about the work of Samaritans please contact Sue Royal on 020 8394 8348 or email s.royal@samaritans.org

Notes to editors:

  • Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone who is struggling to cope. Please call free on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of the nearest branch.

*Professor O’Connor  leads the Suicidal Behaviour Research Lab (hyperlink: www.suicideresearch.info) at Gartnavel Royal Hospital in Glasgow and is President of the International Academy of Suicide Research.

**25.1 per 100,000 for men aged 45-59.