Elite Business Magazine: How businesses can help prevent male suicide
Why Are Suicides So High Amongst Men?
The recent fallout within GB News stemmed from a debate where comedian Geoff Norcott highlighted the ‘arresting’ statistics around male suicide rates. While women are more likely to attempt suicide or be diagnosed with a mental health condition like depression, men account for around three-quarters of all suicides.
Questions remain as to why the rate of suicide is so much higher in men. Research highlights a mixture of historical and contemporary issues that drive the high rate of suicide in men.
According to a survey by the Priory, while 77% of men have suffered with common mental health symptoms like anxiety, stress or depression, 40% of men have never spoken to anyone about their mental health. When asked why they do not speak up, the biggest reasons cited were that they have learnt to deal with it (40%), they did not wish to be a burden to anyone (36%) and they were too embarrassed (29%).
Men are more likely to use drugs or alcohol in response to distress in order to self-medicate when they are suffering from symptoms of depression or anxiety, which over time will make symptoms worse and is associated with an increased likelihood of a suicide attempt.
Another survey by the Priory put work pressures (32%) and financial pressures (31%) as the two biggest issues negatively affecting men's mental health with rates of suicide increasing particularly during financial downturns.
Roles in society
According to a study by the Samaritans, the way men are brought up to behave and the roles, attributes and behaviours that society expects of them is a major contributing factor in male suicide. According to the report men compare themselves against a masculine ‘gold standard’ which prizes power, control and invincibility with a sense of shame and defeat if they do not meet these standards.
Having a job and being able to provide for your family is central to ‘being a man’, particularly for working class men which is why there is an evident socio-economic inequality in suicide risk.
According to the ONS, males working in the lowest-skilled occupations had a 44% higher risk of suicide than the male national average; the risk among males in skilled trades was 35% higher. The risk of suicide among low-skilled male labourers, particularly those working in construction roles, was 3 times higher than the male national average with 507 construction workers took their own lives in 2021. For males working in skilled trades, the highest risk was among building finishing trades; particularly, plasterers and painters and decorators had more than double the risk of suicide than the male national average. Identifying these types of key elements to suicide rates are helpful in identifying targeted suicide prevention strategies
Businesses can use the above data from high-risk occupations as well as guidance from the cross-government suicide prevention plans, which are in place in every local area of the UK, to understand an area’s demographics and the specific needs of its population.
Spotting the signs of ‘Suicidal Ideation’ and how businesses can support employees
Research into why people die by suicide identified social and psychological pain to be the central causes of suicide-related behaviour. Social pain occurs because individuals are unable to establish meaningful connections with others or perceive themselves to be a burden to others. Conversely, psychological pain was affiliated with mental suffering or extreme anguish.
Individuals who experience either type of pain may enact suicide to end their suffering, especially when they perceive their situations as unchanging or hopeless.
A report commissioned by the UK Government called Thriving At Work sets out a series of mental health core standards that all workplaces are recommended to adopt, including implementing a mental health at work plan, developing awareness by making information accessible, and encouraging open conversations.
With 71% of employees stating they would be worried about telling their employer about their mental health struggles business can adopt preventative measures where they will need to observe their employees’ character and look out for some of the following behaviours which may seem obvious but often go unnoticed:
- A noticeable shift in their mood (even a calmer mood can be a cause of alarm, perhaps indicating this person has made their decision and is at peace with it)
- Extreme levels of despair or hopelessness about life
- Talking about, writing, or researching death or suicide
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Purchasing something which could be used for suicide, such as a knife, or saving pills
- High levels of anxiety or agitation
- Excessive alcohol use or drug abuse
Employers do have a responsibility to support the mental health and wellbeing of their employees and understanding the risk of suicide should be part of the mental health strategy of every company.
Firstly, they should foster a positive and inclusive workplace culture so good mental and physical health is promoted and valued. Social connectedness is also essential for fulfilling employees’ belongingness needs and helping them to feel part of the work community. Providing opportunities for employees to informally engage with another can also build social bonds and can improve job satisfaction and well-being.
Secondly, actively try to reduce stress at work through developing a specific mental health and wellbeing support plan for employees where they can approach dedicated staff members. Educating as well as training managers and key staff, specifically in suicide first-aid, can foster a culture that supports employees in talking about their suicide ideations and not negatively stigmatising their mental state.
Tackling this issue is extremely challenging for businesses; however it is important to understand who is at risk and why they are at risk so that they can provide employees with tailored support and access to resources even when they have not explicitly indicated suicidal intentions but feel completely helpless and alone in the world.
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