Content warning: mentions suicide.
We, as a society, have done a disservice to men across the nation. The ‘It’s OK Not to Be OK’ movement swarmed across social media this summer, with celebrities and peers posting pictures advocating for awareness regarding the mass epidemic of male suicide in our society. However, now that the ferocious veracity of the engagement has now pitted out, it leads me to wonder whether the ‘It’s OK Not To Be OK’ movement simply acted as a plaster for a gunshot wound; a temporary fix for a fundamental flaw in all of our mentalities.
84 men across the UK take their life each week. 75% of suicides committed in 2015 were men. It remains the highest cause of death in men in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland under the age of 45. However, the number of male suicides annually are the lowest they have been in thirty years. These statistics beg the question of how have we as a society allowed male depression and suicide to prevail as a mass issue for so long?
This is in no way to say the ‘It’s OK Not to Be OK’ movement was not an invaluable way of opening up a conversation on a previously inaccessible topic, amongst friends, families and media outlets. However, as shown through statistics, the issue of male suicide and depression should be viewed with the utmost severity and, much like the #MeToo movement, needs government action and not just social media attention. One can pray that the ‘It’s OK Not to Be OK’ movement will act as a catalyst resulting in a growth in government funding to prevent and educate people about the issues of male suicide and how to prevent it. Fundamentally, however, there needs to be a seismic shift in the way most men and children are told to handle their emotions. The perpetuation of the ideology that for a man to be emotional is a weakness or emasculating is toxic and renders those with mental health problems unsure of how to treat their illness.
The most recent press release from The Department for Health and Social Care details the £25 million that is going to be invested into the country in the next three years in an attempt to lessen the number of suicides per year. However, whilst men are three times as likely to commit suicide than women are, they are mentioned in one sentence of the entire document. Every step towards improving the statistics of male suicide rates are good ones, and the £25 million being funded towards the improvement of mental health treatment is monumental. However, the problem of male suicide rates needs to be more specifically targeted; according to NHS England, female suicide rates have halved, while male suicide rates have ‘barely budged.’
I found this article incredibly hard to research, not only as the issue of suicide is deeply upsetting, but it reminded me that I inevitably have fuelled and perpetuated unhealthy standards onto men throughout my life. I am sure at times in my life I have expected men around me to be more emotionally resilient than me, and for that I can only apologise. My blissful ignorance in expecting the men around me to not have similar problems as myself was naïve and unfortunately something not only I possessed. It is easy for me to say as I have always been told by my community that I can express my emotions, but there is no weakness in having problems and it is never a burden to say when you are finding things difficult.
It is okay not to be okay, but it is also so much more than that. More awareness needs to be raised about male suicide rates and depression as it stems from a problem deeply ingrained into society in which men are seen to be unsuitable vehicles for upset. This ideology is laughable, but men’s problems are not and need to be viewed as such. If your friend seems down, ask how they are doing. If you feel down, there will be countless people in your life that would want to hear about it. Being sad is not uncomfortable, the fact is that more people die from suicide than road accidents per year. So, donate to charities such as Project 84, or watch Zoe Balls’ recent documentary about male suicide, but please do not ignore the problem. It has been perpetuated for too long and now is the time we need to pay attention to the men around us who have been failed countless times.
Image: The People Speak! via flickr.com