When I was nine-years-old, my Grandad passed away. At first, my parents didn't want to talk about his death. However, after a lot of questioning, they finally admitted to me what had happened: he'd died by suicide.
When I was told this piece of information, I was baffled. My whole life, I'd been told that men died from cancer, from heart attacks, and from strokes. But, suicide? That was something that wasn't ever mentioned.
Trouble is, as a society, we are reluctant to talk about men dying by suicide. Despite the fact that over three-quarters of suicides are by men, the media tends to only represent suicidal females. When it comes to the news, we only hear about men dying by suicide when it involves a celebrity. For instance, when Robin Williams and Chester Bennington both died, the media suddenly showed an interest in men's mental health. However, this was short-lived: as soon as news outlets stopped reporting on these stories, they also stopped bringing up men's mental health.
Don't get me wrong, in recent years, there have been some brilliant efforts made to tackle men's mental health issues. There have been some fantastic campaigns set up by mental health organisations, which have encouraged countless people to talk about their mental health difficulties. Whilst I'm incredibly grateful that there has been an increase in the amount of support available for men struggling with their mental health, there is still so much more we can do.
Firstly, we can stop using phrases, such as 'man up'. These phrases suggest that it's not okay for men to openly show how they feel. There seems to be this perception that masculinity is based on being 'mentally strong'. Men are expected to 'mask' their 'true' feelings. From a young age, they hear phrases such as 'boys don't cry' and are told that, if they want to be a 'man', they must not visibly show emotions.
This is so harmful. It means that when men do struggle with their mental health, they often feel unable to reach out for help. From speaking to male friends who have mental health issues, I know that most of them took years to seek support, as they didn't want to seem 'unmanly'. In fact, I know a couple of them made suicide attempts instead of going to the doctors for help, because they couldn't think of anything worse than having to openly share how they were feeling. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 and it's hardly surprising when people would rather tell their upset male friends to 'man up', as opposed to taking a few minutes to listen to what they have to say.
Instead of joking about their feelings, or being patronising, take time to listen to the men in your life. Whether it be a friend, a brother, or an acquaintance, try to ensure you're there for them. Don't laugh at them, or insult them for being upset. Instead, be understanding. Tell them that you're here to listen, and that there's nothing wrong with showing emotions.
If you're worried about a male friend, speak to them. Even if you don't see them being visibly emotional, there are other signs you can look out for. For instance, if they're more withdrawn than usual, or spending a lot more time in bed than they usually would, they may have mental health difficulties. Other signs include: changes in eating and sleeping habits; overusing drugs and alcohol; difficulties when it comes to concentration, and increased aggressiveness. If you notice any of these signs in one of your friends, check up on them. Ask them if they're okay. Tell them you've noticed the changes, and you're here for them.
If they do want support, offer to go to the doctors with them. Your friend will likely agree a treatment plan with their doctor. Make sure you go along with it. Be encouraging and be supportive. If they're offered anti-depressants, don't go on a rant about how against them you are. Similarly, if they're put on a waiting list for therapy, don't mock it.
Another way to help them is by signposting them to helplines. Whilst I'm sure your friend will appreciate you being around, they may also find it easier to talk to a stranger. Don't take it personally - most of my male friends prefer to speak to strangers than people that they know. The main thing is, they're opening up to someone.
Finally, if they tell you that they're at risk of hurting themselves, don't be afraid to call in additional support. If you're worried they're about to harm themselves, you can call a local crisis team, or an ambulance. Getting in additional help doesn't make you a 'bad' friend, and it doesn't mean you're betraying their trust. Instead, it means that you're taking male suicide seriously.