In 2013 a total of 6,233 people in the UK took their lives. Male suicides equated to 4,858 of the total figure, making men roughly 3.5 times more likely to kill themselves than women. Since 2007, casualties have steadily risen to such an extent that suicide has become the leading cause of death in men between 20 and 34 years of age. This is without factoring in the increasing number of suicides misclassified as accidents, 'misadventures' and deaths of undetermined intent.
Given the scale of this issue throughout the course of the last parliament, you have to wonder how the coalition government failed to deal with the challenge.
In the Department of Health's 2012 suicide prevention strategy, no reference was made to the gender-related issues facing suicidal men. The effect of unemployment on men in mid-life, when they are aiming to achieve the gold standard of masculinity; male tendencies to reach for a beer in moments of crisis; and the impact of the changing job market on manual workers were all glossed over in the document. It was only in the last year of the previous government that any mention of these challenges was made in the Suicide Prevention Strategy Report.
While this report was definitely a marked improvement over earlier plans - particularly in its references to mental health and alcoholism - it still showed evidence of the exchequer and the DWP denying responsibility for their contributions to the increase in suicide, despite evidence showing suicide increasing at its highest rates in areas of unemployment and the neglected North.
It's also worth noting that it was not compulsory to act upon the prevention strategy laid out by Westminster. If local governments had no interest in the plan, they could choose to ignore it altogether and refuse to collect important data on suicides.
This nonchalant attitude to thousands of men overdosing, hanging and poisoning themselves is not the attitude Cameron & Co. should be taking into their second term. Local governments must be made to act on the matter in a meaningful way, instead of just installing barriers at suicide hotspots and patting themselves on the back. The Department of Health also need to take action by reforming their approach to male suicide. But judging from their history on the subject, they could seriously do with a helping hand.
Who better than the Samaritans to guide policy during this parliament. In their 20-page Men and Suicide Report, the charity have outlined a number of key problems relating to male suicide and their potential solutions. To combat the issues men have with seeking emotional support, the charity urge that policy should move away from blaming men, and instead focus on agencies removing the obstacles between men and professional help. Providing men with access to counselling through their GPs is also recommended as a remedy to 'the harmful aspects of relationship breakdown' and loneliness, particularly in middle aged men.
Heading the list of advice is a call for a reformed approach to male suicide at a local level. Samaritans want to see a national public body coordinating agencies and local government to 'achieve the joined-up approach' needed to implement an effective prevention strategy. They recognise that nothing can be achieved in a system where local governments can turn a blind eye and cross their fingers in the hope that Tom, Dick and Harry won't decide life isn't worth living.
The Department of Health cannot afford the human cost of another two year wait for a half-arsed suicide prevention strategy as we experienced during the coalition. It is crucial that our Conservative government pulls together policy makers, researchers, charities and experts in this first year of parliament, so that male suicide can be tackled into decline over the next five years. To approach this issue as before would confirm the suspicion that politicians couldn't care less about the people they serve.