Every two hours, a man in Britain kills himself. Last week, this statistic became a cruel reality.
As some readers may know, a beloved student at the University of Edinburgh recently passed away. As the last few days’ outpouring of grief has shown, he was a fierce friend to all who knew him, and warmed our hearts with his love, kindness and compassion. The absence of his endless smile has left a void that, to those who had the privilege to be his friend, may never be filled. His passing was a tragic reminder of the necessity to discuss male suicide.
Much like the personal issues that cause men to take their own lives, male suicide is rarely engaged with in public life. It is a sin this publication, for all its zeal and gusto on the topic of mental health, is also guilty of. Whilst one should never belittle the gender-specific issues most passionately debated in the media, none of them have a death toll as staggering as that of male suicide. As a man under 45 in Britain, the thing most likely to kill you is not a car crash, heart attack, cancer or terrorism. It’s you. There were 6,639 suicides in the UK and Ireland in 2015, and nearly 80 percent of them male. Given the consistent rise in suicides from 2007, this number can be expected to be higher still in 2018.
As a man who has had the good fortune of weathering years of serious depression with only passing glances over the precipice of a self-inflicted end, I can nevertheless attest to it being the greatest struggle anyone could face. To those who have never opened a window and wondered if the fall would kill you, you are enviably lucky. As recent tragedies have shown, suicidal thoughts are not, contrary to popular belief, the exclusive domain of the poor and helpless, the drug-addicts and alcoholics, or people «down on their luck». In fact, attributing suicide solely to socioeconomic circumstances is deeply unhelpful, and a malicious insult to those bereaved by it. It is an affliction that, from an outside perspective, strikes randomly, suddenly, and cruelly. Sometimes the victims are the ones perceived least likely of ever contemplating such a notion – the extroverts, the party animals, the ones who work their hardest to spread joy around them, and thus seem as if they share that joy themselves. The ones who fall too fast, crash too hard, forgive too easily, and care too much. ‘I never thought it’d be him’, we conclude all too often.
41 percent of males who’ve contemplated suicide felt like they could not talk about their feelings. I have certainly been one of them. The conventional narrative of ‘toxic masculinity’ is that this is because men apparently feel obliged to society to present themselves in a certain way. Apparently we feel that those around us are the ones who do not welcome our insecurities. I disagree – we do not welcome them ourselves.
A man owes it to himself to act like the man he wants to be. He denies himself the relief of sharing his pain, because that would make the pain real. For months, even years, I treated my mental illness as trivial circumstance. After one drink too many, the sorrows came not as single spies, but in battalions. The word ‘depression’ might have been uttered, but in the morning it ameliorated into the hangover. I’d spend the day hoping my audience had forgotten I ever said it.
Too many men have the same experience, and far worse. As a society, and particularly men, we must make clear that enough is enough. The best way to help a friend who is suffering from suicidal thoughts is to make sharing a two-way street, and not make them feel like they are a burden. We must normalise the sharing of emotional experience – as much as the virtues of a therapist are to be espoused, my best therapy was at the pub, with friends I knew I could trust.
In our student years, we do very little that has a genuine impact on anything. But consider how you could help a suicidal friend – you might just save a life.