Each year across the UK, approximately 6,000 people take their own lives. While women are more likely to attempt suicide or be diagnosed with a mental health condition like depression, men account for around three-quarters of all suicides.
Suicide is a very complex and sensitive issue, with many factors combining to push someone to take such drastic action. It's a mistake to generalise across cases, but questions remain as to why the rate of suicide is so much higher in men. We look at some relevant statistics and research to explore some of the reasoning behind the suicide gender gap.
Male Suicide Statistics
- 4,639 men took their own life in the UK in 2020. (source)
- 74% of all suicides in the UK involve men. (source)
- The rate of suicide in men (15.4 per 100,000) is over three times higher than in women (4.9 per 100,000). (source)
- Men aged 45-64 have the highest rate of suicide by age (20 per 100,000). (source)
- Suicide is the second biggest cause of death in young males (1-19 years old). (source)
Why Do More Men Die From Suicide?
Generalising across all cases of suicide is not always helpful, but there are many possibilities that might explain why men are struggling.
Roles in society
For generations, societal roles have pressured men to "man up". They're encouraged to be tough, and any admittance that you're not ok is one of weakness. While women are often wrongly characterised as "emotional", men are not encouraged to speak up at all. It has its roots in childhood, when we're told that boys don't cry.
Dr Natasha Bijlani, a Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Roehampton, discusses the outdated idea of what it means to be a man:
“Traditionally, men have been less likely to seek support for mental health issues. This is probably for a number of reasons including stigma and the traditional ‘strong male’ stereotype still prevalent in our society – the idea that expressing emotion is a sign of weakness."
These gender roles maintain a stigma around mental health, leaving many men unable to discuss their true feelings when they are struggling or seek professional support and treatment.
Generally speaking, women tend to be more communicative around mental health, able to discuss their feelings with others rather than resorting to internalising their emotions. This is supported by surveys on the topic of mental health. As many as 40% of men have never spoken to anyone about their mental health, despite over three-quarters suffering from common symptoms like anxiety, stress or depression. When asked why they don't speak up, the biggest reasons cited were:
- ‘I’ve learnt to deal with it’ (40%)
- ‘I don’t wish to be a burden to anyone’ (36%)
- ‘I’m too embarrassed’ (29%)
- ‘There’s negative stigma around this type of thing’ (20%)
The same survey found that, for four in ten men, it would take thoughts of suicide to compel them to ask for support for their mental health. The workplace is another part of life where a stigma has taken hold. 71% of people say they would be worried about telling their employer about their mental health struggles for fear of getting a negative response.
Given men are less likely to speak up in a medical setting, it makes them less likely to get the treatment they need when they are struggling. Men have been shown to be less willing to report symptoms of depression - which some see as one explanation for why women are more regularly diagnosed with mental health conditions.
Alcohol and depression are inextricably linked. People will often drink excessively in order to self-medicate when they're suffering from symptoms of depression or anxiety. Despite feeling more relaxed in the short term, alcohol is a depressant that, over time, will make symptoms worse. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 7% of men have an alcohol use disorder, compared to 4% of women.
When pressures in your life are especially intense, many of the reasons above play a role that makes men more vulnerable to suicide. Our survey of 1,000 men put work pressures (32%) and financial pressures (31%) as the two biggest issues negatively affecting men's mental health. Again, gender roles may be relevant. Men have a tendency to view themselves as a failure if they are not able to provide for their families. During financial downturns, the BBC reports that rates of suicide increase, making men more at risk if they lose their job during a recession.
When workplace stigmas, an unwillingness to speak up, and the risk of substance abuse combine with a drastic change in someone's life, the risk of suicide can increase dramatically.
- Contact your local 24-hour NHS urgent mental health helpline
- Ask for an urgent appointment with your GP
- Go straight to the nearest A&E department
Spotting the Signs of Suicidal Ideation
It can be hard to identify when someone is thinking about taking their life (known as suicidal ideation or suicidal thoughts). If you're worried about someone, observe their character and look out for some of the following:
- A noticeable shift in their mood. Even a calmer mood can can be a cause of alarm, perhaps indicating this person has made their decision and is at peace with it
- Extreme levels of despair or hopelessness about life
- Talking about, writing, or researching death or suicide
- Saying goodbye to family and friends
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Purchasing something which could be used for suicide, such as a knife, or saving pills
- High levels of anxiety or agitation
- Excessive alcohol use or drug abuse
Recognising someone else is not ok can be difficult, but it can even more difficult seeing it in yourself. Paul McLaren, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Ticehurst House, has four questions men should ask themselves if they’re struggling with mental health:
- Do you still get excited by positive occasions? For example when your team scores, or about a date or meeting friends
- Are you still keen on exercise and do you still get a buzz from it? If your exercise is slipping and you are not motivated to do it, it could be that your mental health is deteriorating
- Are you finding it harder to concentrate on work? Are you able to concentrate on a book or a film?
- Are you losing track of social situations or just avoiding them?
If you notice any of the signals above, either in yourself or someone else, you should take steps to get crisis support straight away. Help and support is out there for anyone struggling with mental health issues or considering taking their own life. In the long-term, there are things you can do to tackle the issues you've been experiencing and improve your wellbeing.
If someone you know is vulnerable to suicide, it's important to put prevention steps in place so no harm can come to them. Putting time aside on a regular basis to talk through how they're feeling is a good start. Here are some other things to put in place:
- Make a safety plan: Have a plan in place that you can immediately trigger if suicidal ideation becomes a reality. Write down coping strategies they could adopt, contact details of people who could offer emotional or professional support, and steps you could take that would minimise risk (e.g. removing things from the immediate vicinity that could be used to cause harm).
- Don't ignore the signs: If signs of suicidal ideation appear, don't make light of or dismiss them. Seek the support they need as soon as you can.
- Support in treatment: Be it researching local support options or attending medical appointments with your loved one, be as helpful as you can. Try and take some of the burden off your loved one so they know they're not fighting this alone.
Treatments for mood disorders like depression and anxiety include:
- Residential treatment: An intensive residential stay in a purpose-built hospital where you receive round-the-clock treatment away from the distractions of normal life.
- Therapy: Sessions where you discuss the difficulties in your life and any underlying causes, while developing new through processes to allow you to move beyond them.
- Medication: Used to help limit symptoms and complement other treatments. With depression, for example, antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly used.
Mental Health Treatment at Priory
Priory helps men recover from their mental health difficulties with world class treatment in a network of top hospital and wellbeing centres across the UK. If your symptoms are persisting and severely hampering your ability to lead a normal life, if could be time to seek a diagnosis and start the journey to taking back control of your life.
You can do this by speaking to your GP, or reaching out to our dedicated enquiries team here at Priory. We’ll sensitively discuss the issues you’re currently facing and how our teams across the country can help you overcome those challenges with expert, evidence-led treatments.
Call 0330 056 6020 or fill out our enquiry form to start your recovery journey today.