A new report out today (Thursday 20 September) examines in depth why men from disadvantaged backgrounds in their 30s, 40s and 50s are at higher risk of suicide.
On average, around 3,000 middle-aged men take their own lives each year and men from low socio-economic backgrounds living in deprived areas are ten times more likely to die by suicide than men from high socio-economic backgrounds living in the most affluent areas.
The report, commissioned by Samaritans, the helpline charity, explores the reasons for suicide beyond mental health issues in this group of men and calls for suicide to be addressed as a health and social inequality. The research, Men and Suicide: Why it’s a social issue, reveals that:
- men compare themselves against a ‘gold standard’ which prizes power, control and invincibility. When they believe they aren’t meeting this standard they feel a sense of shame, which can lead them to have suicidal thoughts
- men in mid-life are now part of the ‘buffer’ generation, not sure whether to be like their older, more traditional, strong, silent, austere fathers or like their younger, more progressive, individualistic sons
- the changing nature of the labour market over the last 60 years has affected working class men. With the decline of traditional male industries, they have lost not only their jobs but also a source of masculine pride and identity
- men in mid-life remain overwhelming dependent on a female partner for emotional support. But today men are less likely to have one life-long partner and more likely to live alone, without the social or emotional skills to fall back on.
This report comes on the day Samaritans launches its We’re in Your Corner campaign. It is part of a five year partnership with Network Rail to reduce suicides on the railways. It will include posters and other initiatives across the rail network aimed at reaching out to this group, encouraging them to seek help and consider calling Samaritans.
Stephen Platt, Samaritans’ Trustee and Professor of Health Policy Research at the University of Edinburgh, said: “It has been recently recognised that men in mid-life can no longer be ignored as a group at high risk of suicide. However, this report shows that it is men from low socio-economic backgrounds who desperately need help.
“Men are often criticised for being reluctant to talk about their problems and for not seeking help. With this in mind, we need to acknowledge that men are different to women and design services to meet their needs, so they can be more effective.
“The role of mental health problems in suicide is well-established and must not be ignored. But we also need to look at the economic and social inequalities that contribute to people wanting to take their own lives. Policy-makers and practitioners need to take forward our recommendations from the report as a matter of urgency.”
Samaritans is calling on national governments, health, welfare and social services, as well as the third sector, to recognise the heightened risk of suicide among disadvantaged men in mid-life, treating suicide as a health and social inequality. There are six recommendations:
- Take on the challenge of tackling the gender and socio-economic inequalities in suicide risk.
- Suicide prevention policy and practice must take account of men’s beliefs, concerns and context – in particular their views of what it is to ‘be a man’.
- Recognise that for men in mid-life, loneliness is a very significant cause of their high risk of suicide, and help men to strengthen their social relationships.
- There must be explicit links between alcohol reduction and suicide prevention strategies; both must address the relationships between alcohol consumption, masculinity, deprivation and suicide.
- Support GPs to recognise signs of distress in men, and make sure that those from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to a range of support, not just medication alone.
- Provide leadership and accountability at local level, so there is action to prevent suicide.
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Access the full press pack, including a summary of case studies and the report.
For further information about the report, to set up interviews or case studies, please contact Samaritans’ press office on 020 8394 8300 or email [email protected]
Notes to editors:
- The suicide figures for the UK are supplied by the Office for National Statistics and Central Statistics Office Ireland. Male UK suicides in 2010= 700 aged 25-34, 997 aged 35-44, 906 aged 45-54, 619 aged 55-64. Male ROI suicides in 2010 = 386 deaths for all men. Middle aged men are men in their 30s, 40s, and 50s.
- Men on the Ropes was the first phase of Samaritans’ campaign to reach men at higher risk of suicide, which launched in 2010. For more information see the Men on the Ropes press release.
- Samaritans’ vision is that fewer people die by suicide. People contact Samaritans when they are struggling to cope and need someone to talk to. More than 20,000 Samaritans’ volunteers are available round the clock, every day of the year. The helpline provides a safe place to talk and all conversations are private.
- To contact Samaritans call 116 123, email [email protected], or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.
- To understand more about this group of men, Samaritans commissioned Volante Research to interview 12 men throughout the UK and Republic and Ireland aged between 35 and 55 from low socio-economic backgrounds