The Blog

Time To Change Our Attitudes To Men And Boys

There's a gender element to suicide - and indeed to mental health. It leads me to ask again why we aren't pouring money into researching why we aren't funding research to explain why more men take their lives than women... Now, as we enter November, ittime to change.

Last month the Time to Change campaign released findings showing that if fathers talked about their own mental health problems it would encourage 70% of teenagers to feel able to do so themselves. Their research showed that a quarter of 16-18 year old young men experience mental health issues on a weekly basis. Later this month, as part of CALM's work with the Huffington Post series 'Building Modern Men' throughout November, we'll be releasing details of our own Masculinity Audit, which shows that men who've been very depressed are less likely than women to talk to anyone about it (55% of men compared to 67% of women).

Scarcely a week passes without a great article about male mental health, and the call for men to talk has been now been adopted by every major mental health charity, alongside LADbible, (#UOKM8? campaign) and UNILAD who have all taken to encouraging men to talk and seek help when they need to. And Men's Sheds have taken off. What's all the fuss?

Official UK figures for suicide in 2015 aren't due for release until 2017, but the Campaign Against Living Miserably, for the second year running, has pulled together ONS figures for England and Wales together with Northern Ireland and Scotland. These show that suicide remains the single biggest cause of death for men aged under 45 in the UK.

The detail is shocking. In Northern Ireland 48% of all deaths of males aged 15-24 were suicide, and that rose to 51% for men in the 25-34 age band. With all the post-vention work and recent money put into suicide prevention there, such figures are dreadful - and lead me to ask again, why no research into why do more men take their lives than women? The rest of the UK isn't great either. Suicide accounted for 29% of all 15-24 year old male deaths in Scotland and 27% of the deaths of young men in England and Wales. So, tough times for young men.

But it's not just young men, its men of every age. The rates of male suicides, and the numbers, are highest in men aged 40-49, and there's a nasty high in men aged over 85. I hear you say that being old is horrid, of course it is. It's tough for men and women, but in men the rate is nearly 21 per 1000, and for women it's 5.1.

You get the gist. There's a gender element to suicide - and indeed to mental health. It leads me to ask again why we aren't pouring money into researching why we aren't funding research to explain why more men take their lives than women.

We know that men often behave differently from women when down or in crisis. Zooming out from suicide we see that drugs overdose, transport accidents, diseases of the liver (alcohol poisoning) sit up there with suicide as common causes of death for men. Men will behave recklessly, self-medicate on drugs or alcohol, and may even behave violently - and end up in prison. The ratio of men to women in jail is massive. It isn't just suicide where men's mental health feature, it impacts a host of behaviours. We need to look beyond suicide to understand how men experience and present 'mental health problems', (a deeply unhelpful label to explain everything from severe mental health problems to critical life issues) and how our structures - NHS, policing, housing, social care - can respond to their needs.

Over the past ten years the prevailing theory is that men just won't ask for help but ever increasing demand on on CALM's helpline shows otherwise. Year on year CALM has had to increase helpline capacity. We need to increase capacity again today, and recognise we need to run 24/7 so that men who are down or in crisis can get the help they need, and want. CALM doesn't struggle to 'reach' men, ever. We struggle to respond to their need. And all those agencies who are now setting up services for men, find the same.

Now, as we enter November, it is time to change. As a society, and as service providers, we need to value the lives of men as well as women, value the lives of men in middle age as much as women in middle age. If we are to build a society for modern man then we need to look through the lens of gender and ensure that we've systems in place to recognise mental health issues - and behaviours - when they arise, and be there across those journey's and points of crisis and influence. Whether that's divorce, homelessness, bereavement, education, breakups or being a new dad.

HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around men to highlight the pressures they face around identity and to raise awareness of the epidemic of suicide. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, the difficulty in expressing emotion, the challenges of speaking out, as well as kick starting conversations around male body image, LGBT identity, male friendship and mental health.

To blog for Building Modern Men, email If you would like to read our features focused around men, click here