A loss of masculine pride and identity can tip middle-aged men over the edge, leaving them more likely to commit suicide, a new report found.
The Samaritans explored the reasons for suicide beyond mental health problems in men aged in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
It found that on average about 3,000 middle-aged men from disadvantaged backgrounds take their own lives each year.
The research showed that men from low socio-economic backgrounds who lived in deprived areas were 10 times more likely to commit suicide than men from high socio-economic backgrounds living in more affluent areas.
The report states: "Mid-life has been seen as the prime of life, but people currently in mid-life are experiencing more mental health problems and unhappiness, compared to younger and older people.
"Men in mid-life are now part of the "buffer" generation, not sure whether to be like their older, more traditional, strong, silent, austere fathers or like their younger, more progressive, individualistic sons.
"The changing nature of the labour market over the last 60 years has affected working class men.
"With the decline of traditional male industries, they have lost not only their jobs but also a source of masculine pride and identity."
Lack of companionship can also contribute to the high suicide rate in this group, the research found.
Stephen Platt, Samaritans’ Trustee and Professor of Health Policy Research at the University of Edinburgh, said: “It has been recently recognised that men in mid-life can no longer be ignored as a group at high risk of suicide.
"However, this report shows that it is men from low socio-economic backgrounds who desperately need help.
“Men are often criticised for being reluctant to talk about their problems and for not seeking help. With this in mind, we need to acknowledge that men are different to women and design services to meet their needs, so they can be more effective."
The report's authors said that: " Men compare themselves against a masculine ‘gold standard’ which prizes power, control and invincibility.
"Having a job and providing for the family is central to this, especially for working class men. When men believe they are not meeting that standard they feel a sense of shame and defeat.
"This type of masculinity may propel men towards suicide, as a way of regaining control in the face of depression or other mental health problems.
"More than women, men respond to stress by taking risks or misusing alcohol and drugs. They use more lethal, violent and ‘effective’ methods of suicide."
The University of Edinburgh's Dr Amy Chandler, an expert on gender and self-injury, said: “The masculinity working class men may feel they need to live up to is more rigid, narrow and conﬁning.
"Further, disadvantaged men may lack the resources to change this in the face of economic hardship, lack of skills, family breakdown and deeply entrenched views of what it is to be a man.”
“The challenge is how to encourage this to happen without alienating these men, and still communicating in a way that makes sense for them.”
The charity is launching a new campaign "We're In Your Corner', aimed at men, and in partnership with National Rail to help prevent deaths on the railway.
Brian, 50, from the West Midlands
“Things started to go really downhill about ﬁve years ago. I’d been with my partner 25 years and we’ve got ﬁve kids. We were arguing all the time, ended up getting into debt and eventually
"I had to go bankrupt. As a lorry driver, I’m always on the road and I think my partner was cheating on me, which led to us splitting up.
“I enjoy driving a lorry. I like to keep myself to myself, I’m my own gaffer. But I had a heart attack while driving one day which was a total shock. I was off sick for nine months and I got the sack from my job. I was very depressed.
“My relationship with my three youngest children is pretty non-existent; I’m not allowed to see them and haven’t done for two years. It’s hard.
“Not a lot of people know about depression. When it hits, it’s like real loneliness. I feel fed up and just completely tired of life and I can’t see anything that’s good. One minute you’re ﬁne and then the next everything’s closing in around you; you can’t cope. It’s unpredictable.
“Everything got on top of me and I tried to kill myself. I thought my kids would be better off without me. It didn’t work, and since then I’ve been to see counsellors and they’ve probably helped, just by having someone to talk to.
“I think it can be harder to talk to people and especially people you know, it’s easier to talk to a stranger. I’ve got a mate that I go and have a drink with on a Saturday night, otherwise I’d have nobody. At work I don’t talk to anyone, just have a mess around when you do see them.
“I’m on anti-depressants now and to cope I try to keep active. I’ve been trying to get my life together and I take each day as it comes. I plod on.”
If you've been affected by the issues in this article, please call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.