Monday, 13 April 2015

"Boys don't cry" is killing our men

I've just finished watching tonight's Panorama on BBC1 in which Simon Jack (whose father died by suicide) looked at male suicide in the UK, the biggest killer of men under 50.
Naturally it's a topic that resonates deeply with me, Simon was in many ways a 'typical' male suicide. He was 37, had drug problems, was living alone after the end of a long term relationship, was in debt and had always found it hard to open up emotionally. Since his death I've come to firmly believe that openly talking about depression and suicide is so important, it's not a magic wand of course, not when mental health services are so patchy in this country, but when the rates between male and female suicides are so disparate it points to the damage done to men who learn from a young age that "boys don't cry".
As a relative of somebody who killed himself I do however, sometimes pause before posting something on social media. I'm acutely aware that I don't want to make somebody suicidal feel more guilty. After a high profile suicide there are always the inevitable "selfish" and "not thinking about their family" comments. I beg to differ of course, without presuming to know what's going through somebody's head when they decide to kill themselves I'm willing to bet they're more likely to believe they are a burden and their family and friends will be better off without them than they're planning their death without a second thought to their loved ones. It does concern me therefore that when I talk about my devastating loss it may be construed the wrong way, that I'm trying to shame people into staying alive. However, what I'm hoping to convey is that I don't believe that anybody bereaved by suicide ever feels a burden has been lifted, no matter what happened previously and whatever problems led them to that final decision. To anybody considering suicide I would say this, despite all of our ignorant and thoughtless comments, we would always choose to continue to live with you than without you. This isn't to make you feel guilty, feeling suicidal shouldn't be seen as a shameful act, please think of it as releasing you from your burden of worrying about us. Talk to us, talk to professionals, talk to someone.  It can get better and we can wait with you for as long as you need. Depression is not weakness, feeling suicidal is not wallowing. As a society we need to stop the man up comments and ignore those who have decided - without any medical knowledge or experience - that depression is a first world problem. Remember the old HIV advert in the 1980s with the iceberg and "Don't die of ignorance" slogan? I think our attitude to depression, particularly in men is a bit like that. The iceberg of shame and stigma looms there menacingly, dark and cold. It's time now to take a pickaxe to that ice, people shouldn't be dying because they don't feel they can talk. Boys being taught that they shouldn't show their emotions, they shouldn't cry, is ultimately killing our men.

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