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Dublin: 16 °C Monday 28 July, 2014

Column: Now, more than ever, we need to Mind Our Men

Today is a day for appreciating and spoiling the men in our lives – but, with the rate of male suicide in Ireland continuing to rise, we also need to look out for their mental health now more than ever, writes Joan Freeman.

Joan Freeman

WHILST FATHER’S DAY reminds us to appreciate and spoil the men in our lives, we need to look out for them now more than ever.

Earlier in the year, at Pieta House, we launched our Mind Our Men campaign with the aim of reducing male suicide in Ireland. We are educating the people of Ireland on the signs and symptoms of suicide so that they can look out for the men closest to them. We believe that friends and families can play a key role in looking out for people with suicidal thoughts – we’re not asking them to be therapists, but to be the link between the men in their lives and services like Pieta House.

The rate of male suicide in Ireland continues to rise

The last couple of years have seen a torrent of dialogue around the subject of suicide and although there has been an upsurge of organisations and increased awareness of suicide prevention, the rate of male suicide in Ireland still continues to increase.  Every week in Ireland, ten people die by suicide. Eight of them are men.

We decided to go back to the drawing board to try to find out why the numbers of male suicide continue to increase. Our own data was confusing, because our records showed that 53 per cent of people coming to Pieta House were female, and 47 per cent were male. These figures did not reflect the national figures of men engaging in services and the lack of reduction in male suicides also further questioned our own findings. When we carried out a deeper analysis, we discovered that the majority of appointments for males were booked by females. The recession obviously had some impact on suicide rates but we came to a very simple truth which was men do not ask for help. While some men may seek help, the majority do not. That truth made us look at the characteristics of men.

Even though men are known for helping both men and women they don’t tend to seek help for themselves and if they do it’s usually at the point of crisis. The reasons for their reluctance are because they believe that they can ‘fix’ the situation or that it will pass. We need to accept that men communicate differently to women and also to be aware that they find it more difficult to verbalise their feelings.

The Tipping Point

While some people with mental health difficulties may be suicidal, it is our experience that many people who are in crisis or go on to take their life is usually a reaction to a life event.

There are two common triggers that can deeply affect men. The first is the loss of a major relationship either through breakup or bereavement. Men depend very much on women for emotional support and traditionally women tend to encourage men to seek help when they are physically unwell or emotionally distressed. When a man loses a relationship through death, he may be thrown into a world of chaos, uncertainty and obviously grief.

The other trigger is usually concerned with uncertainty in career and work matters. Men often view themselves as the provider for their partner and family, work not only allows them to provide but also creates a purpose to their day. Being unemployed, losing a job or facing redundancy or retirement can result in men having a sense of failure. This of course has a knock on effect on their role within the family, the man is no longer ‘the provider’ and his status has changed. In younger men, it can lead to social isolation. A job loss can also lead to lack of male companionship and a lack of identity and purpose.

What to look out for

There are some common signs to look out for if you think a man in your life is in distress. If he is withdrawing from most social situations such as meeting with friends, visiting family, going to training etc. Gradually isolating himself by turning off his mobile phone, not answering calls, spending a lot of time on his own or in his room. If you notice a change in his attitude or performance in school or work – he may become disinterested and not put effort into his studies or his time at work.

He may have either angry or tearful outbursts or seem emotionally withdrawn where he doesn’t react emotionally to situations. Behavioural changes such as a loss of appetite, getting little or no sleep or if he has become agitated or lethargic or an increased dependence on alcohol or drugs.

The most telling sign of all symptoms and probably the most important one is when people talk about suicide in either very direct or indirect ways. They might say ‘I see no light at the end of the tunnel’, ‘I have no future, everything is bleak’ or ‘my family would be better off without me’.

What can you do

The Mind Our Men campaign is asking the men and women of Ireland to learn the signs and symptoms of suicidal behaviour and to then carry out the psychological version of CPR which is a lifesaving procedure we call APR.

A - Ask

Tell the person that you have noticed that they seem down recently and try and find out what’s bothering them. There are many ways you can ask this question such as: ‘You haven’t been yourself lately, what’s wrong?’ or ‘I know that you are feeling very down, sometimes when people are like this they may have thoughts of suicide, do you have thoughts like that?’.

P   – Persuade

Persuade the person to allow you to get help for them – don’t leave it up to them to get help. If somebody had a broken leg, you wouldn’t expect them to get help for themselves, why should it be any different if someone’s life is broken?

R – Refer

Refer to organisations like Pieta House or go with them to their GP or local therapist.  They can contact the HSE or Pieta House wherever they are who will advise them of the nearest support.

Studies have shown that more suicides are prevented by family, friends and colleagues than by professional institutions, so together we can make a huge impact. We can all learn to spot the signs and save a life.

For more information see www.mindourmen.ie

Joan Freeman, CEO of Pieta House

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