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Have You Got His Back?

Last year 4382 men took their own lives in the UK. That’s around 12 a day, right here in the United Kingdom.

It remains the biggest killer of men aged between 15 and 35 in this country, and takes more of our men than road traffic accidents or any other illness. Women are far from immune, but year on year around 75% of suicides are men. That’s significant.

Globally, the rate of suicide in men is staggering. On average, the world loses a man to suicide every minute of every day.

There’s no scientific answer as to why suicide figures are heavily weighted towards men, and of course each person is different and will have their own motivation. One likely – and widely held view – is that men’s typical (you might even say ‘traditional’) inability to talk about tough personal subjects contributes to that ‘three times as many’ number. Bottling it up has to be a factor, surely?

November is Men’s Health Awareness month, the backdrop to the now famous Movember campaign.

I think it’s fantastic that the Movember movement has expanded its cause to now include testicular cancer and men’s suicide. There is something quite powerful about the notion of growing ‘sponsored’ facial hair for a month to create a talking point, a conversation starter- about a hidden, unseen killer- exposed by wearing it on your face for the whole world to see!

Are we dying of embarrassment?

You see the real tragedy is that the vast majority of men who have taken their own lives have never spoken to anyone – or tried to get help.

There’s no doubt in my mind that for some men, the embarrassment or perceived consequences of getting help are just too great. I know a few like that. They’re great guys, to a man.

And I can imagine what would go through their minds when faced with the prospect of sharing a burdensome or personal issue: “What will the lads down the pub say?” “He’s soft or weak; just pulling a fast one because he’s lazy.” “He’s less of a man – a ‘nutter’, ‘psycho’ or ‘window-licker’”. “What would my dad think? Or my grandad?” 

The reality is that dads and grandads probably experienced these feelings too. ‘Manning Up’ was what their society expected. Mind you, we used to think the world was flat and that flying was only for birds.

But a glimmer of good news is that conversation is already taking place and change is happening. Let’s face it, as a civilised society, we are so much more understanding and aware than we were even a decade ago.

Suicide is largely preventable, and perhaps part of the solution does indeed lie with encouraging men to talk.

But how?

The Movember foundation offers some simple steps to important conversations, acknowledging that “men sometimes aren’t comfortable reaching out.” It’s not rocket science and you don’t need a degree in psychotherapy.

Those steps are:

Ask, Listen, Encourage Action, Check In.

There are so many initiatives encouraging men and boys take action to be mentally healthy and well, supported by friends, family and the community during tough times.

On 19th November, International Men’s Day looks to celebrate the positive value men bring to their families, their communities and the world. It’s a welcome antidote that promotes goodwill and positive transformations.

Let’s bear that in mind as we make sure to look out for our dads, our brothers, our mates and work colleagues.

And it’s really not that hard. We can all do our bit, one conversation at a time.

I love these ads from “Time To Change”…