Why Do So Many Men Die by Suicide?

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From Slate: “In a survey my organization, Promundo, carried out with support from Axe, of 1,500 young men aged 18–30, we found that nearly 1 in 5 thought about suicide in the past two weeks. Which young men were more likely to think about suicide? Those who believed in a version of manhood associated with being tough, not talking about their problems, and bottling up their emotions were twice as likely to have considered suicide. Studies in other countries have found the same, namely that men with more restrictive ideas about manhood are more likely to think about suicide than young men who aren’t so stuck in the ‘man box.'”

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29 COMMENTS

  1. 1 in 5 thought about suicide in the past two weeks…

    I have to go check my mail. Its been a wile I wonder what BS is waiting for me. The guy at the counter always asks me how I am doing and I reply it depends on what I find in that box. How is the government or insurance company or financial institution going to F me over today ? Never know till I open the box. What do the bloodsuckers want from me today ?

    http://www.bing.com/search?q=death+by+despair

    People need to get angry, and real men fight back crybaby crap won’t help anything.

          • There is a difference between having the personal value of toughness as a voluntary identity vs. being TOLD that you HAVE TO be tough and that having or expressing emotions is a sign of weakness. This kind of pseudo-toughness is very different than REAL toughness, which often involves dealing with strong emotions effectively and without having these emotions deter you from your intentions. In fact, teaching boys that feeling or expressing emotions is “weakness” is actually a cowardly viewpoint, not a “tough” one. A truly tough and courageous person knows that emotions are part of life and expects them to happen. Moreover, allowing emotions to happen provides good information to guide one’s decisions toward accomplishing one’s goals and improving one’s life.

            My son is a great example. If something upsetting happens, he gets frustrated or withdraws or cries, but he lets these emotions wash through him and soon after focuses on why these emotions happened and how he can deal with the kind of problems or activities that led to them. I’d suggest he’s a lot tougher than the fragile hyper-males who are terrified of crying in public for fear that their “tough” facade will crack and people will see just how fearful they really are.

          • So just to clarify, I am a big supporter of GENUINE toughness. I am not a supporter of “toughness” being defined by people in power and enforced on people they see as “subordinate.” The first is a skill that is very valuable in the right situations. The second is an effort from the controlling elite to suppress empathy toward those being harmed by their dominant position.

  2. I agree with most criticisms of a “man box”, but believe that a different “man box” is causing most suicides: “white male privilege.” Suicide statistics may be heavily skewed towards men but they are also heavily skewed towards white men. There is substantial racism and sexism in our community that often promotes substantially less empathy for the emotional suffering of white men.

    • I’m not so sure it’s lack of empathy for white men, Steve. I rather suspect it’s that by buying into the “white privilege” game, white men who do so give up empathy for others AND for themselves. The game becomes about dominance and aggression and emotions are suppressed. What people who are not white males don’t recognize is the degree to which compliance with the norms required to remain a part of the dominant group leads to anxiety, self-denial and hopelessness. Ironic as it seems, those married to the power structure often feel powerless themselves, because any move toward recognizing the reality of their position means vulnerability, and vulnerability means being attacked or ostracized. I know for me that showing empathy towards the more vulnerable kids meant I got teased or laughed at, which I tried to avoid when in elementary school. By high school, I’d pretty much given up on being in the “popular” (aka privileged) crowd, but I was still pretty quiet about the obvious injustices I saw going on around me, because speaking up brought on bullying and humiliation. I have to imagine that all but the main leaders of the most privileged group felt similar anxiety, and I wonder how many of them actually saw the injustices and violence around them and yet felt unable to speak up for fear of becoming a victim of their “friends.”

        • True enough, and I also have raised my kids to do the same. It’s about all I can personally do about it, but I don’t hold my breath for the world to catch up. Actually, I do think that very slowly, there are more and more raising their boys this way, and I’m hoping this will eventually create bigger waves. But there are also a lot of young Trump supporters around, so clearly we’ve still got a very long way to go.

          How did you end up becoming an empathetic champion for the downtrodden?

  3. Within the data on reported suicides that I have seen – a high proportion of people that attempt suicide are already tied up with the psychiatric services.

    From my own experience listening to people in 12 Step fellowships speaking: the average person thinks about doing lots of different things, and this is normal.

  4. every now and then, as the economy and society change, masculinity (in particular…) comes up for redefinition. actually…now that I think about it…at least in America, masculinity is forever subject to revision, redefinition, retooling, re-branding.

    I don’t doubt that men who are taught to be that -sort- of manly will end up having more problems when the real world hits. I imagine its also something of a social class and education issue. Speaking as a white male, I’ve observed that working class men are raised to be more “tough” and all that. Once one hits the middle-middle class, men get more leeway in all respects, including emotions and such. Get to the “well-to-do” realm, there’s more freedom and -space- from social norms. I’m wondering how much of the suicidality is rooted in larger socio-economic realities. The white, working class men who would have been labor activists or military men or…well, who would also have had upward mobility, so they might not have remained working class, in years past…

    are now stuck in a position with little hope, 0 tolerance schools, 0 tolerance society, disintegrating families, widespread misery and pain, and…anomie, basically. No upward mobility, plenty of potential for poverty, prison, etc., so there’s an element of intense alienation, which lines up with Marx’s writing about late stage capitalism.

    One’s “mode” of masculinity is undoubtedly an issue, yes, but I think that the form of masculinity one is taught is probably a reflection of larger social and economic issues, and those larger issues are probably where one can find more solid, meaningful answers to the high (and rising…) suicide rate.

  5. I’d venture to guess it has something to do with feeling invisible, hopeless, and utterly disconnected. Having one’s life force energy sucked dry is what usually leads to these feelings, from what I’ve experienced and witnessed in life. Lack of heart and soul nourishment can lead to despondence and lack of worthiness.

    I wouldn’t limit this to why men become suicidal, however. I’d say this is why anyone would start thinking about killing themselves. Social vampirism is an equal opportunity killer.

      • I’d go deeper than merely “very challenging” and “potentially unsatisfying.” Imo, that is an extreme understatement.

        As far as connectedness goes, seems we have a choice to be either co-dependently enmeshed and take the bs, or practice self-care and self-respect, only to face being alienated and ostracized.

        In a toxic system, there is usually one main extremely manipulative controller–the one who is abusing their power rather using it for the greater good–and then all the minions/gatekeepers who fear losing either 1) their job, 2) “approval” 3) their life 4) some other drastic loss if they detach from the group. It’s a cult-like dynamic, where one is punished, shamed, and marginalized for not conforming to the dysfunctional norm, which would basically be about protecting the abuser. With or without consciousness. It’s the program, and it’s based purely on fear. In a toxic system, this is what its members learn, by example.

        This is what I’m talking about, and I believe it is frightfully common. In fact, I think I’d call it the “mainstream norm,” at this point. It’s certainly the example from politics these days. And, I’d say it applies to the “mh” system.

        This is what causes despair, hopelessness and perceived powerlessness–when we are punished and socially bullied for being simply ourselves, and there seems to be no way out of it.

        Well, there is a way out of this, but people have to start knowing how to cope when rejected by a group because they do not wish to be sheeple. That’s courageous and authentic, but a community can make that extremely painful for a person–to the point of causing undue suffering–if only from their own fear-based projections, aka scapegoating.

        So back to connectedness–who would want to “connect” with that kind of society? Yuck. I believe this is to what Mr. Krishnamurti was referring when said, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

        So, if you’re feeling like an outlier in sick society, thank GOD! I’d say you’re on your way to healing. I call that “feeling your light,” and it can save your life.

        • Well said! I laughed with absolute recognition at your last paragraph. Krishnamurti knew what he was talking about. The sad part is, even those most ‘successful’ in the system are still subject to its pressures and abuses. Your comments that there is one or a small cadre of abusers and a whole lot of scared “hangers on” is right on target. It is my hope that places like MIA can encourage “creative maladjustment” in those who have begun to see what’s really going on. Of course, the psychiatric profession is 100% on the side of enforcing social norms at this point, so getting an understanding of that fact is crucial to people finding the pathway toward greater self-respect.

          • I’m glad you put the word “successful” in quotes because, indeed, I believe this is open to interpretation. What exactly does it mean to be “successful” in a “sick society,” as it were? Success at what, and by what means? And that’s an open question, subject to discussion because I’m sure there would be diverse perspectives on this.

            However, succeeding at liberating one’s self—inside and out—would, in my estimation, not need to be qualified with quotation marks because I believe one can feel whether or not they are truly free, that is a personal assessment to be made internally, and it is quite apparent when it manifests. It is a powerful and unmistakable feeling.

            The more we feel the imprisoning and extreme double-binds of a dysfunctional society, the more potential we have to know our own light. That is quite a journey to take, out of the dark night of the soul. I believe this is what we’re talking about when referring to taking one’s own life. I’d say they’re in a dark night of the soul.

            When people say “oh but they were happy, had it all” or “I thought things were getting better for them,” stuff like that, I’d say the one who took his or her life more than likely felt extremely invisible. How could they not? Obviously, they were not feeling free, and no one around them picked up on it.

            “It is my hope that places like MIA can encourage ‘creative maladjustment’ in those who have begun to see what’s really going on.”

            Personally, I don’t feel maladjusted, never did. I adjusted to everything happening to me, albeit extremely painful and confusing. I was responsibly on my path, following protocol. Anyone who has ever been in a group with me knows that I take healing seriously and pour myself into the process. It’s why I do what I do for a living, I have a passion for this. The healing process, alone, is amazingly creative.

            I’m also a filmmaker, actor, musical performer and director. All of this sprang from my healing, my passions suddenly began to manifest in the most creative way. This has guided my life since my dark night, and it’s been the most amazing process to navigate this with trust, and a bit of awe.

            Makes me extremely grateful for what I went through, to discover myself this way, but it was much harder than necessary, because of…well…how can I put this? Because of a bunch of assholes I encountered along the way. I’m talking about the myriad professionals who came into my path along this journey. And I use that term to be as gentle as I can be and still be honest with my feelings about it, because, really, I’d want to use the word “murderous.”

            Were I to be really neutral about it, I’d say, “seriously narcissistic, self-absorbed, and ego-driven” (even more than “profit-driven,” the ego issues were what I found to be seriously out of control. And that can be dangerous in any kind of so-called “health care” environment).

            And I say this is neutral, because when you apply the meanings of these terms as they are generally understood, it fits to a tee. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest. Sorry, but it is what it is.

            When I tried to take my own life, it was because I had just started my withdrawal and that particular part of my healing–which was unfamiliar territory and I was doing it responsibly and under supervision—got really rough when symptoms of the withdrawal began to manifest, and it was a nightmare. I was authentic, present, reporting everything, letting my emotions be what they were, and listening carefully to what I was being told.

            And that last part was a problem, because by listening carefully to what I was being told at that particular time that my brain was an open sponge and trying to heal itself, I internalized some of the most heinous messages a human being can imagine, about myself.

            I’ll spare you the details here, but it was grotesque what they projected onto me, repeatedly and impulsively, directly from their triggers and filtered through their own shadow, with no remorse or self-responsibility. I’d try to argue and push back, and it would get exponentially worse, right off the bat. It was truly terrifying.

            THAT was the real toxicity, more than the drugs. Took me a while to wake up because I was so disoriented, and in the meantime, it was severe and excruciating to be made to believe that I was some “maladjusted” weirdo who would never be accepted as anything else, no matter what.

            And I don’t mind being a weirdo, I think we’re all weirdoes, if we are to be authentic. Who wants to be “the same?” That would be not only oppressive, it would be boring as hell.

            But when they communicate this from inside the system, it is with absolutely no humanity, completely soulless, and quite damning. That’s how I would put it because this is how it felt.

            And even after I had adjusted to professional disenfranchisement (because I won a lawsuit) by creating my own successful business, and then made a film from inside the system, after having detached from it (I went back in voluntarily to speak my truth, ended up with Voices That Heal), and even after I had become a successful stage actor in the Bay Area, thanks to using creativity as a healing tool, do you know that my last case manager/public system “psycho-therapist” did, indeed, write in his notes that I had an “adjustment” disorder?

            Not only had this never, ever been an issue with me (I worked full time and got degrees and fostered a long-term relationship–which is now a marriage–while living with Axis 1 Diagnosis and on psych drugs), but in addition, this was YEARS after coming off drugs, after profoundly good healing work, and after all I had accomplished in the most visible way. I was simply going here for transitional purposes, it was all over my notes that I was attempting to transition from disability. I was showing him my work.

            Wow, can we say projection? And worse yet—SABOTAGE? How is adjusting to and overcoming obstacles and succeeding unequivocally an “adjustment disorder?” That’s just plain weird, for real.

            This is why your statement gave me pause, personally, although I cannot speak for all. Good stuff, though, as always, Steve. I do appreciate what you are saying here, and I agree wholeheartedly, that it is about finding one’s self-respect. The system and its players do everything they can to undermine this, and it works unfortunately.

            Were we to find our power in taking back our self-respect (which is ours to begin with), then perhaps the vampires will starve.

            Moral of the story: Don’t Feed the Vampires!

          • “Maladjustment” in this case is only seen that way from the point of view of the oppressors. They want everyone to adjust and accept their lot in life, because they don’t want to have to change out of their comfortable seat of superiority and privilege.

            I agree 100% that we are all weirdos. We have a refrigerator magnet from many years ago that says, “Remember, nobody is normal. Everybody is weird!” from Melissa Chen, age 11. If we all did that, we’d be on the path to a whole new society!

          • Btw, here’s a 10 minute clip of the film I mention, Voices That Heal. This was filmed in 2011 and we have all evolved in our lives since then. I began to post here shortly after having made this film, and have since learned a great deal. I believe–at least, I hope–that I’ve refined my thinking in many ways, thanks to everyone’s courageous truth-speaking and sharing on here. So a collective thank you for that.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LN0-m6nhUIE

            I’m the guy who tells the story of the therapist that said, “Take your meds and don’t make waves” to a group member, who was a gentleman of about 60 years old, really sweet and smart guy, who wanted to file a grievance. Stuff like that is what inspired me to tell my story, regardless of how vulnerable it made me feel. This shit has got to change.

          • I’m glad we agree that being one’s own person does not in the slightest equal “maladjusted,” despite how threatened or uncomfortable the “norm” might feel as a result of someone marching to the beat of their own drummer. Yes, that’s an extremely oppressive message, and quite harmful. Let’s remember the topic of this article.

          • Steve, if you do watch the clip, I’d be interested to hear your feedback. It’s only a small fraction of the film before we get into our personal stories, but it sets the stage via a filmed discussion among those of us who went through the “mental health system journey,” full-throttle. We’re not all of like-mind nor did we have a script of any kind, this is all present time authentic speaking from our hearts. I’m always curious if, above and beyond anything else, people can hear our hearts.

            We do speak about many things discussed here, at different levels of awareness, we are at different stages in our lives, and somewhat culturally diverse, although interestingly enough (considering the topic of this article), 4 of us are middle-aged men. The cast was not planned, either, I sent an email to 30 people in a speakers’ bureau of “peer specialists/educators,” what have you, that particular population, and these are the folks who responded–literally what the universe brought to me, with no calculation or manipulation on my part.

            I was one of these “peers” at the time, although I was independent of the system, had long-since healed from the psych drugs debacle, and was working as a healer and an actor.

            I didn’t mind the “peer” identity at the time, although later I caught on to the implication of it. Someone told me about this program, and so I went back into the system (thinking it really was “advocacy,”–turned out to be the grand illusion) to tell my story to various audiences around San Francisco, including at my own graduate school, where I did my MFT training. It was a GOLDEN opportunity!

            And I did it with a vengeance, really challenged everyone with my truth. Most freedom I’d felt in years, it was so incredibly healing and empowering to do this. And it felt good to tell my own story, and own it!

            I’ve since woken up to what these so-called “advocacy” agencies really are (advocates for the system, “don’t rock the boat” activists, which makes no sense to me, that’s totally an oxymoron), but alas, I was so incredibly lucky that I was able to make a feature film using their platform, to film these stories and to have this new conversation. I’ve used this clip in presentations when I was doing that kind of work. That’s been a while, though, I’ve put the film to rest and am focused elsewhere in my life.

            So, this does come from one of those “so-called” anti-stigma campaigns and we’re all working through various levels of programming. I don’t like them, either, in the end, and when I caught on, they gave me the usual treatment, which is how I discovered their hypocrisy and true agenda, to maintain status quo. But it was an avenue through which a lot of very heartfelt voices could come together to speak a new truth–at least for us, at the time, it was.

            Regardless of any of that, we were trying to communicate in a way that people could hear us, true and real and in the moment. Over the years, as I shared the film, some would hear what was at the heart of all this, while others seemed to be focused on other specific issues which came up for them, which is fine, I think that’s to be expected.

            But I would be curious to know what it is you are hearing here, I know you have good insights and you know these issues well. It would be interesting for me to hear what you think, after all these years of not thinking about this film. Not even sure what I think, I’d have to watch the whole thing again and see how I feel about what I was saying back then! Lots of things have changed since 2011, naturally.