An admirable goal, but impossible to achieve, is how I would describe Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s goal to reform and improvethe NHS Mental Health services so there is an annual suicide rate of zero. The cynic in me thinks that this has come at an opportune moment. After all, this is an election year at the end of a Parliament where the NHS has suffered severe cutbacks, and Mental Health Services have suffered more the most.
I talk about this issue all the time and for me, this is a gender issue. In the UK and indeed in most western countries, whereas women are more likely to be diagnosed and receive help for depression and experience suicidal thoughts (or perhaps more likely to admit to them?) as well as attempt to take their own lives, it is men that are overwhelmingly likely to take their own lives and that number has only increased in the last few decades.
The number of male suicide deaths increased to 4,590 in 2013 (2014 figures are yet to be made public) meaning that the percentage rose to 78%. That’s right, of every 100 suicides in the UK, 78 of them will be men.
Some of the disparity in the figures above are explained by the methods used. Men are more likely to use sudden and violent methods, such as jumping in front of a vehicle or from a high point, shooting themselves with a gun or hanging. Women are far more likely to use slow and non-violent means such as poison or an overdose of tablets. This article gives a few more statistics on method, showing that there is parity between British and American methods and gender rates.
Judging by these methods, it appears that my belief expressed a couple of years ago is seen as the general feeling – women are more likely to attempt suicide as a cry for help and that men are more likely to attempt suicide because they want to die. One thing is clear though, we should be tackling this in very different ways and certainly devoting our time to figuring out why more men than women are dying from suicide.
Until we understand the whys and whats without pussyfooting around the gender issue – or playing gender politics by pointing the finger at men for their own demise (I won’t provide a link to the radical feminist site I found a few hours ago) – this is only going to get worse. Until we start dealing with why there is such a big disparity between the genders and handling it as a male issue, to stop pretending that it is not a gender issue, it is not going to get any better.
We need to promote mental health as a male issue just as we do prostate and testicular cancer. And yes, it is an issue of gender inequality if men are not getting the help they need or the service does not cater to the needs of men in the way that we require.