“The simple truth of the matter is that if you are a man under 45 in the UK, the thing most likely to kill you is you,” says Simon Gunning, CALM CEO.
The tragic passing of Mike Thalassitis has understandably shocked many people. To hear of a young man in his prime taking his own life is deeply upsetting and unsettling. As we know, the factors that can lead to suicide do not discriminate and, unfortunately, this is an occurrence that is all too common. The simple truth of the matter is that if you are a man under 45 in the UK, the thing most likely to kill you is you.
The reasons for this are vast and complex. It is not fair to point the finger and blame individuals or television programmes for what is ultimately a symptom of a society that doesn’t always readily provide a positive environment within which people feel able to seek support when they need it most.
One of the fundamental issues is that mental health problems among men still carry a social stigma. More than four in 10 men under the age of 45 in the UK have contemplated taking their own lives. Yet, a staggering 84% of men in the UK say they bottle up their emotions, with nearly half (44%) saying they suppress their emotions often or at least once a day. This is even more stark for younger men, with almost two in three (63%) 18 to 24-year-olds saying they regularly hide their true feelings (YouGov 2017).
One contributing factor to this stigma is the societal archetype of the strong and silent man, who may not feel permission to seek support if he’s going through a tough time. One thing that we strive towards at CALM is to challenge this damaging stereotype, to open up societal perceptions of what it means to be a man and to celebrate multiple interpretations of masculinity so that we can move towards a more open and supportive culture. Everyone has a role to play in pushing for positive change – be that in the media, online, in the workplace, in our schools, in our friendship groups or at home.
While the conversation around these issues has greatly evolved in recent years, there’s a lot of work still to be done. We now hear a lot about how people should speak up and talk to someone if they’re going through a difficult moment in their life, so it’s crucial that we also empower people to feel able to listen and look for signs that can indicate if anyone around them is struggling.
As a society, we’re in this together. We all go through hard times – be that the breakdown of a relationship, losing a job, or going through a bereavement – but it can be hard to spot warning signs in someone else. Things like unexpected mood changes, social withdrawal, or change in sleeping and eating patterns can signal if someone is struggling.
Checking in on someone, even if it’s just a text, can make a huge difference. So if you’re concerned about a mate or someone in your life, ask them how they’re doing. Just showing your support and giving someone space to communicate their feelings can be a huge release. Explore how they’re feeling with open questions and, above all, listen.
It’s also important to make sure those close to you are aware of the services available out there, like CALM, Samaritans, or the GP. If you’re worried about someone’s wellbeing, make a plan and don’t be afraid to involve family, friends, or colleagues so that the person has a support network around them.
A useful tool to help someone is to follow the four steps from ALAN:
It’s important to ask open questions, like ‘how are you feeling’ to start a conversation. Show concern but don’t judge.
Then, listen. Let them speak. You don’t need to solve problems, they may just need to get stuff off their chest.
Once you’ve listened, help them make a plan of action and set some simple goals. Help them to recognise their warning signs, and what has helped in the past. Ask them what they will do if they feel suicidal again, how they plan to keep safe, and how others can help them with this. Write down the names and contact details of professionals and telephone support services they can contact during a crisis. List the steps they can take to make their environment safe, and detail a safe place they can go if they need.
Lastly, it is important to involve others to help you and the person you are supporting – don’t try to do everything yourself. Build a network of support together with friends and family, identifying how different people can help.
CALM is helping more people than ever before navigate life’s difficult moments with our free and anonymous helpline and webchat, which are open every day from 5pm-midnight. We are leading a movement against suicide and we urge all of society to join with us to help drive positive change and encourage action.
CALM’s free, anonymous and confidential helpline and webchat are open every day, 5pm-midnight. Visit thecalmzone.net for more information.