83% of our suicides are men. Why is this?
Last year, Leinster and Ireland prop Jack McGrath helped to launch the IRUPA’s Tackle Your Feelings campaign by revealing that he had suffered in silence for five and a half years following the tragic death of his brother in 2010.
He had used rugby to cope with his emotional pain, and eventually it began to affect his playing and his relationships.
“I struggled to talk about it. I told myself ‘don’t cry, you need to be strong’ ” and then, as it usually does, it all came to a head.
“I needed to talk about it.” He said that when he finally did talk about his feelings it was a “huge pressure” off his shoulders. “When I opened up, it was like a gas valve had been released.”
New research conducted by the Irish Rugby Union Players’ Association shows most people feel they would be treated differently if others knew about a mental health issue they had. Their’s is not the only research to highlight this troubling fact. Fear of judgment is rife among us, we talk about it a lot with regard to ‘womens’ issues’ – but men are most certainly not immune.
The main message of the campaign is that it is OK for men to feel vulnerable. Too often they forget to look after themselves, often they don’t know how.
For a lot of men the truth is that no-one has taught them.
Men “need to realise that it’s ok, not to feel ok. It’s ok to be vulnerable,” said Dr Murphy, a psychologist who is involved in this timely campaign. And I wholeheartedly agree.
Feelings and emotions have long been stereotyped as ‘woman’s things’; talking, sharing, crying.
Men of course, are human beings and have the same feelings as women. To say otherwise is not only inaccurate but is a disservice to both ( all) genders. Women have more societal ‘permission’ to express feelings of sadness, pain, rejection, fear. Men have more permission to express pride, anger, joy. The differences are stark, and problematic. And it is this difference that we think leads to the alarmingly high suicide rate of our men.
It doesn’t seem, as many believe, that the suicide is a result of the recession. In fact the opposite seems to be the case. Our suicide rate has decreased, having peaked in 2004. The actual figure, it seems, has increased because of population increase.
At present Ireland has the second highest suicide rate in Europe for young men at 5.23 males per 100,000, against an EU average of 2.85. This is disturbing.
What can we do?
This is #menshealthmonth2017 – check the website. And check www.tackleyourfeelings.com (such a clever name!) It has various tools and resources to help people deal with anxiety, depression and other issues. It’s well worth a visit! Locally we have the Let’sGetTogether Foundation who offer invaluable support to men and women of all ages.
Meanwhile – on a practical level:
- Ask a man you know today how he is. If he shrugs it off – gently repeat the question “No seriously, how are you?
- Let’s teach our young men to be OK with saying “I’m not good today actually, I feel awful/ sad/ left out/ lonely”.
- Let’s offer them a comforting touch, even if they laugh it off and squirm a little. Teach them that your concern is for real – it’s not a joke.
They’re not a joke.
- Let’s watch out for any signals we may be giving that it’s not OK to be vulnerable – that banter that says “Arra you’re a wuss if you can’t handle bla bla”. Because one of the men you meet today might need to be heard, he might need to feel that he’s normal, and that he matters.
We all matter.
In Ireland we have several great organisations who are ready and able to help:
And if you are considering making contact with these places, know that no problem or issue is too small – or indeed too big.
I wrote this piece for a parenting website for parents who are raising sons – it may be of interest.
And finally here’s a video I spotted on Youtube – well worth a look, especially if you are a young guy, or know one. (So that’s most of you!) Also – it’s OK to substitute the word ‘depression’ for sadness, loneliness, fear – anything.
Take care of yourselves and each other,