A Movember Goal: Reducing Suicide Rates Among Men

If there was ever a time to grow a “Movember mustache” or even go full beard for No-Shave November, it’s this year. The pandemic of 2020 increases the importance of men’s health, especially suicide prevention, which is the focus of this post.  

I’ve not participated in this movement in the past to grow facial hair that “changes the face of men’s health” but decided to participate in No-Shave November this year since the impact is a bit closer to home. My last two posts asked you to Join Me for Men’s Mental Health Month and explained Why Men’s Health Month is Important. Everyone: men and women, boys and girls, is stressed out by this COVID pandemic. Its become serious to our mental state.

IMPORTANT: If the information in this post triggers suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911 immediately.

Suicide Rates are Rising 

According to a 2019 report from the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide is a global public health burden that causes around 800,000 deaths worldwide annually. This amounts to about one person every 40 seconds.

The U.S has seen a steady rise in suicide rates since 2014. Of the four-highest rates in the world, ours is the only one that rose.

However, the WHO feels those numbers are understated since many suicide attempts go unreported or misclassified as “deaths of undetermined intent”, “accidents”, “homicides”, and an “unknown cause”. 

Suicide is also the leading cause of death and is especially high in young people. This doesn’t necessarily mean suicide is more likely to occur in young people. But the data is clear that the frequency of suicide increases as we age.

Suicide Rises During a Crisis 

David Émile Durkheim 
(April 1858 – November 1917)

Ever since Émile Durkheim’s classic study Le suicide: Etude de sociologie [Suicide: A Study in Sociology], sources repeatedly confirm that suicide rates spike up during and after crises such as wars, pandemics, natural disasters, and other difficulties. 

Recent research even indicates that the socio-economic, psychological, and health-related impact of the Covid-19 pandemic heightens the risk of suicidal behaviors. Particularly vulnerable groups include healthcare workers, the elderly, and those who suffer crushing economic adversity. 

The effects of mental illness exacerbate our fear, self-isolation, and physical distancing. Stress increases psychiatric disorders, especially depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress (all associated with increased suicide risk).

We are all impacted in some way or another, whether it’s a family member, a friend, or even ourselves.

Suicide is Rising Among Men 

Unfortunately, suicide attempts and actual deaths are on the rise, especially for men. 

A paper titled Men, Suicide, and Covid-19 indicates that men demonstrate higher suicide rates than women across all regions and ethnic and socioeconomic groups, even during the Covid-19 pandemic.  

According to the CDC, roughly 48,000 Americans take their lives each year—with 75 percent of them being men. Globally, the suicide rate for men is twice as high as for women as men have 13.9 deaths per 100,000 with women are at 6.3.

In the U.S, the rate of suicide by men surpassed that of women in 2015 and remains higher.

This data is far from complete since we’re still in a pandemic, but this rise in male suicide requires more attention.

Reasons for Male Suicide

The aforementioned paper attributes the higher male vulnerability to suicide to several behavioral traits that distinguish men from women.

Excessive pressure to conform to traditional modes of masculinity increases the risk of men’s suicidal behavior. These masculine norms discourage some men from showing weakness and worry. We are conditioned to not disclose our emotional and physical pains, which further exacerbates ill-health and suicide attempts.

While not exclusive to men, joblessness, unemployment, failure at work, relationship strains, depression, hopelessness, and substance use all contribute. Other current factors from COVID include the fear of infections, the stigma of a positive test, and anxiety around regulations for social/physical distancing and lockdowns. 

All these factors heighten the symptoms of depression, anxiety, fear, isolation, loneliness, anger, and irritability. These symptoms can lead to relationship conflicts and increases in the use of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. 

Men are most reluctant to seek support for fear of social stigma or being viewed as weak and psychologically ill. So there is a pressing need for campaigns and programs that target men, such as Movember and No-Shave November. 

What You Can Do to Help

An article titled Understanding Suicide Among Men outlines several strategies to help reduce the risk of male suicide. 

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
  1. Watch for signs of depression. Symptoms of depression in men include irritability, social withdrawal, anxiety, loss of interest or pleasure, physical pains and complaints, engaging in risky behaviors, misusing drugs and alcohol, and being unable to keep up with daily tasks.
  2. Offer support. If you notice signs of depression, ask what you can do to help. Let him know that you are there to listen and help.
  3. Don’t ignore the signs. Avoid dismissing or making light of comments that indicate suicidal thoughts or behaviors. If you hear suicidal talk or statements, encourage him to talk to his doctor or therapist.

The above article also references a 2019 study published in the Journal of Mental Health that suggests support from a trusted and respected friend is effective toward the prevention of suicide in men. 

So I’ll also add a fourth strategy:

4. Call a Friend.

As I suggested in Like this:

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