Men and their despair

Twelve men will kill themselves today, as twelve do every day, in England and Wales.

An awful sentence to write.

And words cannot describe the confusion, anger, grief and self-recrimination they will leave behind. The trauma of the left-behind is profound and long-lasting.

Yet the young, the loved and the successful still kill themselves, able somehow to isolate themselves from the consequences.

No one ever believed the note: ‘It is better that I go.’

According to the charity, Campaign Against Living Miserably (Calm), men account for more than three-quarters of all suicides in England and Wales, 4,590 deaths – the single biggest cause of death among males under 50.

And people don’t tend to see it coming with men. Three out of four male suicides had no contact with mental health professionals prior to their death.

When my friend killed himself, he seemed to have everything. But clearly for him, on that morning, there appeared to be nothing.

There may be clues, which hindsight sometimes sees: signs of depression like lack of energy, sadness, negativity and self-destructiveness.

But perhaps a bigger issue – and the issue which makes all other issues more dangerous – is the male inability to seek help to work things through.

A survey by Calm revealed that 69% of men said they preferred to deal with problems themselves, 56% didn’t want to burden others. ‘The traditional strong silent response to adversity is increasingly failing to protect men from themselves,’ said Jane Powell, Calm’s chief executive.

Shortly before his death, the psychiatrist Anthony Clare wrote a book, On Men: Masculinity in Crisis. He concluded with a plea to men to place ‘a greater value on love, family and personal relationships and less on power, possessions and achievement… to find meaning and fulfilment’.

In the end, every suicide arises from a belief that this present situation is the end of the story, that there’s no way out.

It is a state of utter despair, the fox at the end of the run… and perhaps familiar to some of us. It need only kidnap us for a moment to be fatal.

The genius for all of us is to remember – against all odds and perhaps despite the evidence – that nothing is the end of the story, that this too shall pass; that there is a future…

…and if a future, then a present.

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