Samaritans Research Supports Growing Concerns about Older Male Suicide

Psychotherapy and Counselling can Help Older Men Struggling with Suicidal Thoughts

In an article in The Telegraph today concerned with the levels of male suicide, their Social Affairs Editor, John Bingham, writes the following:

‘Family breakdown, improved rights for women and the collapse of traditional male-dominated industries have combined to create a crisis of “masculine identity”, a panel of psychologists, economists and social scientists concluded.

Together with male traits such as an unwillingness to talk about personal problems and heavier use of drink and drugs, it means they are now at far greater risk of suicidal tendencies than anyone else, the study commissioned by the Samaritans found.

Men aged between 35 and 55 are more than four times as likely to take their own lives as women of the same age, and more than twice as likely as younger men, according to official figures.

And middle aged men from poor areas are up to 10 times more likely to commit suicide than other groups of people.

The report argues that the pressure to live up to a “gold standard” of masculinity – involving providing for the family – can turn personal troubles such as losing a job into a crisis in a way that it might not for women.

The sense of suffering “defeat as a man” can be more acute in middle age, when the responsibilities are greatest, it adds.

Meanwhile major changes in the economy in recent decades, with a shift away from manufacturing, has removed a source of male “pride, identity and companionship”.

At the same time, higher rates of marital breakdown, the rise of single-parent households mean that men are significantly less likely to have emotional support than in the past.

Perhaps most significantly, it found that, rapid social change has left middle aged men as a “buffer generation”, caught between the “stiff-upper lip” approach of the previous generation and the very different lives of younger people.

Prof Rory O’Connor, of Stirling University, said that the focus had shifted over recent decades from younger men being more at risk of suicide to middle aged men – suggesting that there may be characteristics unique to the current generation.

“Men currently in their midyears are the ‘buffer’ generation – caught between their traditional silent, strong and austere fathers, who went to work and provided for their families, and the more progressive, open and individualistic generation of their sons,” the report says.

“They do not know which of these two very different ways of life and masculine culture they should follow.”

In addition, men who attempt suicide are more likely than women to succeed in taking their life, in part because a higher pain threshold, it notes.

They are also more likely than women to indulge in “impulsive” and “risky” behaviour, including heavy drinking and drug taking, if depressed.

Clare Wyllie, head of policy and research at The Samaritans, said: “We are looking at a particular generation of men who were brought up at a particular time.

“They grew up with fathers who were austere, silent and traditional, they grew up with this expectation that they were going to be the head of the household, that they were going to be the breadwinners, that they were going to be respected by their wives and families.

“But what has happened is that social relations and work has changed, their identities, work and relationships have been blown apart by social change.

The risk factors for suicide are well established, these people are experiencing multiple risk factors all at once.”

Prof O’Connor added: “They had fathers as role models and they didn’t talk about their emotions and that was OK.

“But then they look behind them and young people are really comfortable talking about their emotions.” ‘

Depression and subsequent suicidal thoughts are not uncommon. Recognising these thoughts and feelings and seeking help are important steps to intervene in a possible downward spiral. The professional psychotherapists at The Cavendish Psychotherapy Practice on London’s Harley Street are experienced in working with clients struggling with painful and frightening thoughts and will work with you to understand what lies behind them and help you bear what seems unbearable.

 

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