Why are suicides so high amongst men?
77% of suicides are by men. Are the myths around depression responsible for their deaths?
Each year across the UK, approximately 6,000 people take their own lives. Around 90% of suicide victims suffer from a mental health condition and those at the highest risk include middle aged men living with depression. Some of these men might end up becoming dependent on alcohol, which possibly starts as a coping strategy but eventually ends up worsening their mood and leading to other problems affecting their health, employment and relationships. Despite the overall number of suicides falling in 2012, the total number for men increased. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that highest number of suicides was recorded among men aged 40 to 44. For this age group, men were more than four times as likely as women to commit suicide. In total, men make up 77% of all suicides in the UK.
Why more men than women?
There are many possible reasons why middle aged men are more at risk of depressive disorder than other groups in the population, and also why they might be less likely to seek help even after they become depressed. These include the changing role of women in our society who have become less dependent on their male partners, the decline of traditional male dominated jobs leading to a loss of identity as well as income, and relationship breakdown which can be more devastating for men than women. Women generally tend to be more 'emotionally literate' and are able to discuss their feelings with others rather than resorting to internalising their emotions or using alcohol or recreational substances as ways of coping with distress. This latter attribute, together with the fear and stigma of revealing low mood might further hinder the readiness of men to seek help for their symptoms.
Dispel myths to prevent suicides
At Priory Group, we treat more than 10,000 patients a year who suffer from depressive disorder, 2,500 of them as inpatients. Each patient has a different history, with various possible causative factors, but they are all treatable. There are a number of myths we need to shatter to encourage people to start getting access to the treatment they need.
First of all, depression doesn’t discriminate. When the tragic news broke of Robin Williams' death in August, many people were dumbfounded that someone seemingly with everything going for them would kill themselves. But it doesn’t matter if you’re successful, rich or attractive, or have a loving family; people who suffer from depressive disorder come from all walks of life as do those with other illnesses such as diabetes or arthritis.
Secondly, depression is far more common than most people think. Almost 20% of adults can be affected by clinically significant depression. Many of these people do not get the help they need which is often due to ignorance and misunderstanding of the signs and symptoms. Depressive disorder may not always present with an obviously low mood. Reduced concentration, an inability to enjoy life, losing appetite, disturbed sleeping, irritability, diminished libido and extreme lethargy can often be the main symptoms and as these can develop incrementally, they may not readily be recognised as being due to an underlying mood disorder.
Thirdly, depression is not terminal; 86% of our patients recover from their depressive episode following treatment, although the condition can recur in the future. Following a detailed assessment, via a thorough history, management usually involves a combination of antidepressant medication (if the symptoms are graded as 'moderate' or 'severe'), and psychotherapy which provides valuable psychological input.
Raise awareness and remove stigma of mental illness
We must do as much as possible to raise awareness of mental illnesses including depressive disorder, and remove the associated stigma which often deters sufferers from seeking help. Priory Group conducted some research which showed that 70% of people across the country would not reveal a mental health issue to work colleagues. This needs to change.
If you detect the symptoms of depression in yourself or a family member, please talk to someone about it. Tell a loved one, see your GP or call one of the helplines run by organisations such as Mind, Rethink Mental Illness, or the Samaritans.
We must adopt a robust approach to depressive disorder, learn to accept that it is much more common than we thought, and encourage discussion about it so that those who are currently suffering in silence, shame, ignorance or fear are able to seek and receive the treatment and support they need.