Today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, the focus is male suicide. Suicide is currently the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK, and men are nearly four times more likely than women to take their own life. And members of the National Suicide Prevention Alliance - 70 organisations from the private, public and voluntary sectors - are calling upon men to seek help when they're down or in crisis.
It is great that we are, finally and collectively, encouraging men to get support. But surely the big, currently unanswered question is why men.
Various theories are bandied about, but the extraordinary truth is we don't know. There's lots of speculation, snippets of information, theories. But no actual nuggets. But unless we do understand why more men take their lives, then how can we possibly target and respond effectively? We need data to work effectively, hone our targeting, refine services so they fit the audience, ensure those who need help can access it. And if there are environmental factors impacting men, then take action to mitigate such factors.
The issue isn't much different than how it was ten years ago, when suicide was then the single biggest killer of aged under 35 and 75% of all suicides were male. It has taken a decade of relentless campaigning to get the issue raised publically. So now we've got awareness, or at least got a body of steam underway. But we've still precious little in the way of robust data and too many unanswered questions.
In 2012 the government announced a commitment of £1.5million for suicide research. This figure is less than the estimated cost of one single suicide in the UK. To put this in context, there were more than 6,000 suicides in 2014, so suicide is now costing us in the region of £10billion a year. The £1.5million spend on research was not unwelcome, of course, and many important initiatives were identified. But not a penny was spent asking the question "why men?".
The assumption is that it's all too easy to understand the gender bias in suicide. Remember those lazy truisms? Men drink more, visit the doctor less, and take more fatal methods. And yet the female suicide rate has halved since the early 1980s. The problem doesn't then appear to simply biological. We have to go beyond these surface indicators and ask what is really going on.
We know the expectation that 'real men should be strong, silent and in control' is a huge barrier to men seeking help. But even still, just telling men to get help doesn't in itself take us very far. How do we actually prevent male suicide and what is driving these suicides? Poverty, divorce, being a breadwinner are good thoughts. But women face the same issues. So why men?
Is it more about society? Is at least in part biology? Are there environmental factors, such as testosterone reducing drugs, which might explain at least some of this? The problem isn't just that we don't know. The problem is that we're not even asking the question, which 10 years on from when CALM first started pushing on this, feels unreal.
Men all over the country have led the charge to raise awareness. In November last year, CALM reached more than 100million online with our #BiggerIssues campaign. Recently, we've been thrilled to support Luke Ambler, founder of Andy's Man's Club and his #itsokaytotalk social media campaign. And this week I sat around a table with the most influential organisations in suicide prevention - such as Network Rail and Samaritans - to pool knowledge and experience. And the big questions raised were about data.
Today is a wake-up call for male suicide to be taken seriously. Twelve men die at their own hands every day. 76% of lives lost to suicide in the UK are male. Telling men to reach out for help isn't enough. The question still lies unanswered. Why men?
Useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)