In the Company of Men.

Recently, in our local newspaper, "The Sentinel", it has been reported that there has been a sharp increase in suicide rates among men. Charities like Brighter Futures and Samaritans have said that they have had an increasing number of calls from men who have complained of feeling suicidal. Most, according to the paper, are aged between 40 and 60, and have faced either the loss of their job or the breakdown of a relationship. Indeed, in my work at The Media Action Group for Mental Health, which includes the monitoring of our local and national media for mental health stories, I have noticed this increase, with the reporting of someone taking their own life becoming a regular, almost daily, occurrence. And they are, mostly, men.
Indeed, the suicide rates for men run at around four times higher than those for women, and there seems to be a number of factors which make men more likely to take their own lives. For a start, current economic pressures, although also felt by women, appear to be taking a more significant toll on the male population. Many men who have faced losing their jobs, it seems, have seen no other way out than to take the most drastic action. Social isolation is also a factor, and when a relationship breaks down, many are left to cope, often unsuccessfully, on their own. Mental ill health also plays a role, with many experiencing depression, and it is known that men are not as good as women in being open about their feelings and getting help, a problem probably exacerbated by the social pressure on males to be strong and, it would seem, almost invulnerable.
To my mind, also, men have had to face many changes to their traditional role. In a post-feminist world, the changing role of women has meant that men have had to change and adapt too. Although men, invariably, occupy many of the top positions, with women often complaining of the "glass ceiling", the situation lower down the employment chain, according to a recent article in "The Observer", has seen women perhaps doing better than their male counterparts.
Representations of men also appear to have changed. Neil LaBute's film, "In the Company of Men", from which the title of this post is taken, has two central male characters, one of whom is a really quite evil misogynist, the other his more sensitive, but weak, sidekick. Indeed, to my mind, portrayals of men in recent years have tended towards the denigrating, with them often being shown as weak, stupid, arrogant, foolish, and indeed, superfluous. This led even the feminist author Fay Weldon to describe men as "the new women", and psychiatrist Oliver James to insist that "two wrongs don't make a right".
It would seem, then, that men have, of late, had a lot to cope with. The increase in their rates of suicide shows that they are not immune or invulnerable to all these pressures, and the sooner both we and society at large recognise this can only be to the good.                


Dixie said…
Dear David,

Though I'm not a male I do recall the upbringing of my two brothers. How differently I was treated and expected to act.

I was 'allowed' to shed tears even when denounced as a 'crybaby'. But my brothers were not allowed to cry, were told 'Suck it up and be a man!' And that side of the upbringing came through my Dad. So it would appear we've made the serious mistake of passing along non-productive behavior. (For lack of another term to suit my perception.)

Excellent post and I wish I had answers. I suppose, as you say, we might consider re-education of society... or did you say that?!

Hope your tan is doing well,
David said…
Dear Dixie,
As you say, perhaps men are raised not to express their feelings, particularly of hurt or sorrow, and this, obviously, makes things more difficult when things go wrong. Your own experience gives an interesting reflection of how gender affects how we might grow up and learn to behave.
And, unfortunately, summer seems to have passed us by (mostly, anyway) here in little, old En-ger-land, so I'm still a pale and milky colour!
Thanks Dixie,
Very Best Wishes,
klahanie said…
Dear David,
Your article rings true and I know, all to well, the erosion of a positive environment and replaced by a desperate plight through overwhelming circumstances, has had a huge impact on a lot of men. Sometimes, it becomes to much to cope with and a man losing his alleged, "hunter gatherer" aspects, may find it just too much.
I have read that statistically, men around the age of 45 are at the most vulnerable. I know this is a generalisation, but I spent my 45th birthday in hospital on the brink of what had been a slow, drawn out suicide attempt.
Indeed David, this is an issue that needs to be brought further awareness of and how we address it.
In hope, Gary
David said…
Dear Gary,
Yes, it seems that the plight of men of a particular age group is becoming something of an issue, and I know of your own experience of such problems. Hopefully in the future, men will not feel so much societal pressure to be the strong, silent type, often suffering, it seems, in silence and on their own, leading to the most desperate of acts. One can only hope that people can get the help and support they need, and might I add that you have done extremely well to overcome all that you faced.
Very Best Wishes, your way,

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