In the past week, I received the sad news that two dear friends, one his 40s and the other in his 50s, ended their lives. After coming to terms with the initial shock, my thoughts went to their family members. Did they have even the smallest inkling of what their loved ones were planning? They are probably going out of their minds now trying to figure out how they missed the signs and if there is any way that they could have prevented the tragedy. I have no words to ease their pain or help them make sense of this calamity.
Previous conversations regarding suicide have revolved mostly around young victims who felt sidelined by their peers or struggled to meet academic and parental expectations and chose to end it all. Majority of those we talked about were boys. But to have mature men in their 40s and 50s with a seemingly-strong handle on life take this drastic step is puzzling.
Mental illness, substance abuse, financial setbacks, broken relationships and social ostracism have been known to push some individuals over the edge. So, one naturally looks for these factors in a suicide victim’s life. My friends didn’t appear to be depressed or distraught about anything. Or is it that I just didn’t notice their silent distress?
I am also reminded of two other male friends, both in their early 40s with a stable career and family life, who also committed suicide a few years ago. A troubling reminder that suicide is complicated, goes beyond mental health issues and middle-aged men are as vulnerable as young boys.
In fact, the Canadian Mental Health Association reveals that while suicide is the second-most common cause of death in young people, the rates are highest among men in their 40s and 50s. It also tells us that although women are three times more likely to attempt suicide, men are three times more likely to die from it.
A 2015 study publicized in the National Post also indicated that around 75 per cent of suicide deaths in Canada were men. Moreover, they were particularly pronounced in the age group of 40 to 60 years. Which dispels any misconceptions that I and many others may have about the age or gender of those at risk.
Gender stereotyping might be a critical factor that prevents boys and men from expressing their problems. After all, we have all been told “real men don’t cry” and heard young boys being instructed “to man up”. Society dictates how males are supposed to behave and present themselves. They are conditioned to be emotionless, practical and fearless. (Women, on their other hand, are meant to be delicate and fragile.) Showing their feelings could lead to them being perceived as weak or in today’s age raise doubts about their gender identity.
However, sociologists say that these gender roles are not natural but imposed on us by society. While men and women are biologically different, the mental and behavioral dissimilarities are greatly exaggerated. Studies also show that these stereotypes are just as strong today as they were 30 years ago. Meaning most of us believe them and pattern our behaviour accordingly. That’s probably why many men (especially Indian and South Asian) feel inadequate when they earn less than their partners or display aggressive behaviour.
While the #MeToo movement exposes the ruthlessness of powerful men, in many situations men too experience social bias. Family law is one of them. This can leave them feeling powerless and distraught after a separation.
Traditional ideas of masculinity can also prevent men from getting the help they need when going through a breakup, substance abuse or financial situation. Some of my male friends have openly voiced their discomfort (and mistrust) with counselling. Perceiving it to be a show of weakness or biased against them.
‘Movember’ is more than men spouting moustaches in the month of November to raise awareness about prostrate and testicular cancer. It is meant to highlight the importance of ‘mental’ health and draw attention to male suicides too.
Many of us also mistakenly believe that those who talk about ending their lives are less likely to act on it. Health care professionals warn us that they must be taken seriously and that such conversations should be addressed immediately and with professional help. Contrary to what we think, talking about suicide won’t ‘put the idea in their head’.
It is time to end the silence… and let boys and men talk about their challenges… cry as much as they want. Most important is to acknowledge that their feelings and distress is real. Being sensitive to their emotional needs and getting them professional help can help prevent a tragedy! -CINEWS