It has been some two and a half years since I contemplated suicide and now I am in my 40s, I have entered the age group most likely to take their own life, in the gender most likely to end life by suicide. I am now at my highest risk, apparently, to take action to end my life prematurely.
The stark reality of this has brought me full circle to remembering the reasons for why I almost ended it. My marriage had failed after my wife had cheated on me. She blamed me for her actions. Our sex life was mostly good when we were having sex (roughly 2-3 times per year – I kid you not), but after our marriage, it only got worse. The economic downturn meant there was no graduate work for where I wanted to be. I loathed my job and I loathed the area I had been compelled to live. I felt I had lost everything – my marriage, my autonomy and my life choices.
BBC touched a nerve once again in revealing that 100 men in the UK die every week from suicide. Yet I feel I have to continually bang my head on the desk over their handling of the issue in the article, particularly this statement.
Prof Rory O’Connor runs one of the world’s leading research centres into suicide at Glasgow University and conducts experiments into the psychology of suicidal behaviour. Mental illness is often a part of the problem but isn’t sufficient as a complete explanation, he says.
“We think that most people who die by suicide have a mental illness but less than 5% of people with a mental illness take their own lives.”
Not to pour scorn on the expert view of a psychologist, but here he is missing one vital fact – diagnosed mental illness. The emotional expectations placed on men means we are often reluctant to talk about our problems and when we do, we are often told to shut up, man up and grow a set. We talk openly through the anonymity of the Samaritans Helpline but when it comes to visiting a GP and asking for a referral for therapy face to face – that’s when we fall silent.
Once again, we are doing a disservice to men who have taken their own lives, or those who are contemplating it, by refusing to face up to the gender issues surrounding mental health in general and suicide in particular. Why are we scared to talk about this as a gender issue? After all, we talk about BDD as a gender issue, we talk about domestic violence as a gender issue. We talk about cervical cancer and prostate cancer as a gender issue (though this is for more obvious reasons than the others!)
Suicide is a gender issue. Let’s start treating it as such and then perhaps we can start to get to the bottom of why we have such an enormous 75:25 split between men and women.