The events of the last couple of months have further highlighted one of the biggest problems that we currently face. If things continue as they are we run the risk of having a missing generation, the likes of which won’t have been seen for many years. The events have also highlighted that the stigma is still there and despite lots of good work being done, there is still a long way to go. There are also lots of misconceptions about why people do it but still no one wants to talk about it as it is still probably one of the biggest taboo subjects both in mental health and in society in general.
If you have read any of these blogs in the past you will already know what I am talking about but for those of you who haven’t, I am talking about suicide and suicide in men in particular. Suicide is still the most common cause of death for men under 45 or men of my generation. Another alarming statistic is that 76% of all suicides (in 2014) were male.
I have been affected by suicide and the death of my best friend Dan was the reason I started the Foundation and it is something that I have written about before. I have seen the impact it can have on their family, friends and what a divisive subject it can be. After Dan’s passing, some people said to me that it was a coward’s way out, a point of view just highlights a lack of understanding and another reason why people don’t feel like they can talk about it.
For men in the same generation as me, we have fallen between two extremes. The generation of my parents were raised in the aftermath of WWII and that generation believed that men should suppress their feelings as talking about them wasn’t the ‘manly’ thing to do. The reaction I got from my Dad when I told him about my issues with depression was that I needed to ‘man up’ and get on with it. There was no appreciation of what I was going through or that I had a medical condition, it was just something I could just sort out by being more a ‘real man’. In contrast, the generation that have become known as the Millennials, are much more in touch with their feelings and how to express them. They don’t have the same attitude as they have been brought up in a different era where men can be free to be more open. As my generation were raised by those who, on the whole, believed that ‘men should be men’ we have fallen into a gap where we have been told to keep the feelings boxed off but talking about them is often the best way of solving the problems.
We grew up with the angst of the Grunge years and some of the icons of that era have taken their own lives. From Kurt Cobain to most recently Chris Cornell, there have been many high-profile suicides but nothing has really been done to tackle the problem. This has been highlighted by the recent suicide of Chester Bennington, of Linkin Park, who had spoken out in interviews about his own battles with depression. The troubled artist is coming a bit of a cliché but the signs have been there in the songs to express what they have been going through. It has taken me a while to put some of this into words as I’ve tried to express some of this before but have struggled due to the impact some of the music has had on my life. Chris Cornell has had a large impact through his music from the early days in Soundgarden through Audioslave to his more recent solo work. I’ve been fortunate enough to see him live several times and have seen all his different iterations. The lyrics have had the most impact on me as well as his vocal array and song writing. One of my favourite songs that has seen me through some bad times is ‘Fell On Black Days’ which is one of those where the title says it all. If you haven’t heard it before, please check it out as it is an amazing song and particularly poignant for what he was going through and what so many of us have also been through.
The signs were there for all to see and he had spoken about his issues in the past. The same can be said for Chester Bennington who had spoken out following the death of Chris Cornell about his problems but this didn’t stop him from taking his own life. More and more men seem to be getting to the point where they feel like they have no other option and can no longer deal with their problems. This is partly a symptom of their condition but is also a symptom of the society that we live in where we are told to ‘man up’ and keep feeling bottled up as it’s a sign of weakness to open up to other people. You would have to ask where has that got us so far? I would argue that we’re not in a good place given that suicide is the most common cause of death in men under 45. It hasn’t helped us by not talking about our problems or by keeping it ourselves. We are in a society where we are being constantly bombarded with expectations that we should be doing better or have more. Is that what life should be about? Personally, I don’t think so and I believe that constantly striving for more will eventually lead to an unfulfilled life as you’ll never be happy with what you have.
What can be done to help? The first thing is to get the subject out in the open. Given the number of cases that there are it is a subject that can no longer be swept under the carpet. The time has come for men to admit that they have a problem and start speaking out. Suicidal thoughts in men must be far more prevalent than any of us would admit. I have in my worst moments thought that the world would be better without me but have never thought about taking that any further. It isn’t something that I have ever really spoken about to anyone but judging by the statistics despite the stigma there must be more and more men taking it further. Having counselling was one of the most difficult things I’ve done as I found it hard to express how I was feeling and it was almost like there was something in my head that was trying to stop me talking about it. The second time was much easier as I must have been mentally ready to talk about it and having written about how I felt.
Below is a video that appeared on the BBC Three website about the subject.
If you are having feelings that you don’t like or can’t explain, then try and talk to someone about it. There are a number of great organisations out there (that are listed below) that can help. If you are feeling like there is no point going on, please speak to someone and reach out. By telling them how you are feeling you can try and get the help that you need. No one needs to suffer in silence anymore and there is no need to be ashamed for admitting that you have an illness. I suffer from depression which is a mental illness but trying to overcome it has made me who I am today so I have nothing to be ashamed of and try to talk about it where I can so that other people can understand how I feel and what it is like. I only started to get better when I started to write about it and talk to people about how I felt.
The Blurt Foundation has an online community that connects those affected by depression and gives them a place where they can feel safe to talk about their illness and how to deal with it as there will be someone there who has been through it too.
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) offers support to men in the UK, of any age, who are down or in crisis via their helpline and website.
Mind is a mental health charity that provides an information service for users of mental health services, carers and other groups. Information on types of mental distress, treatments, therapies and legal information.
The Samaritans are on call 24 hours a day to provide emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of emotional distress or despair, including those which may lead to suicide.
Let’s try and get more people talking and bring these problems out into the open so that we can try and stop so many people taking their own lives. We can all make a difference to mental health by talking about it and supporting those we know who are struggling. As the Dalai Lama said “Just as a ripple spreads out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.”
Onwards and upwards