THE BLOG

We Must Stem the Tide of Male Suicide

19/11/2015 10:20 GMT | Updated 18/11/2016 10:12 GMT

We are witness to a record rise in suicide amongst young men. The latest figures show that male suicide accounted for 76% of all suicides in the UK in 2014, some 4,623 deaths. Suicide is the single biggest cause of death of men aged under-45 in this country.

I am taking part in a Parliamentary debate today about male suicide. It is right that this important issue is being properly discussed and I shall be seeking answers from Ministers. As the Campaign against Living Miserably (CALM) has shown in a new survey 42% of men in the UK have considered taking their own life.

Four in 10 of those who contemplated suicide never thought about talking to anyone about it for a variety of reasons including shame (32%), not wanting to sound weak (25%) and not wanting to worry anyone (49%).

Although whenever there is a high-profile case of suicide people are quick to ascribe a 'reason' for the death, the fact is we do not properly understand what causes suicide. It is not accurate to say that someone who takes their own life does so for a rational 'reason'.

However, we can discern certain factors which come before a suicide. One is psychiatric illness, and particularly depression, although only a tiny minority of people with mental illness ever contemplate suicide.

Another, according to psychologists, is certain personality traits such as severe self-criticism and the desire to be perfect. Allied to this is social deprivation and poverty. Research published this week from the University of Liverpool linked nearly 600 suicides to the government's Work Capability Assessments, and the changes to some of the poorest people's welfare payments.

A report by Samaritans outlines some of the possible reasons why men are more likely to commit suicide. The report suggests that men compare themselves to a gold standard of masculinity, power and control. They are more likely to feel shame and guilt when they fall from this standard. That's why there is a link between unemployment and suicide. Unemployed people are two or three times more likely to take their own lives. Shockingly, in recent years suicide in prisons have increased by more than 50%. Every four days a prisoner will take their own life.

Analysis by the Samaritans and others shows that there is also a link between socio-economic class and suicide, with those living in deprived areas on the lowest incomes are the most at risk. Men are more likely take risks with drugs and alcohol. Men are less likely to seek emotional support. These genetic, economic, and cultural factors mean that men are more at risk than women. Gay men are also at more risk - over a third of LGBT young people have attempted suicide at least once.

We need a revolution in the way suicide is prevented. For too long, mental illness has been the source of stigma and prejudice. A few brave public figures such as Stephen Fry, Graham Norton and my parliamentary colleague Kevan Jones MP have spoken up about their own mental illness. But for many, mental health remains hard to speak about openly.

We need a new focus on talking therapies being available throughout the NHS. Employers must play a role in ensuring good mental health in the workplace. We need true 'parity of esteem' between mental and physical health.

Most of all, we need a cultural shift so that men can discuss their mental health, seek help, overcome the stereotypes of masculinity placed upon their shoulders, and get the support they need. Each suicide is a terrible tragedy and a waste of a precious life. Together, we can prevent suicide and save the lives of vulnerable young men.

Luciana Berger is the shadow mental health minister, and Labour and Co-operative MP for Liverpool Wavertree