Suicide: The Killer of Men

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Suicide is currently the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK, and men are nearly four times more likely than women to take their own life. And members of the National Suicide Prevention Alliance – 70 organisations from the private, public and voluntary sectors – are calling upon men to seek help when they’re down or in crisis.

It is great that we are, finally and collectively, encouraging men to get support. But surely the big, currently unanswered question is why men.

Various theories are bandied about, but the extraordinary truth is we don’t know. There’s lots of speculation, snippets of information, theories. But no actual nuggets. But unless we do understand why more men take their lives, then how can we possibly target and respond effectively? We need data to work effectively, hone our targeting, refine services, so they fit the audience, ensure those who need help can access it. And if there are environmental factors impacting men, then take action to mitigate such factors.

The issue isn’t much different than how it was ten years ago when suicide was then the single biggest killer of aged under 35 and 75% of all suicides were male. It has taken a decade of relentless campaigning to get the issue raised publicly. So now we’ve got awareness, or at least got a body of steam underway. But we’ve still precious little in the way of robust data and too many unanswered questions.

In 2012 the government announced a commitment of £1.5 million for suicide research. This figure is less than the estimated cost of one single suicide in the UK. To put this in context, there were more than 6,000 suicides in 2014, so suicide is now costing us in the region of £10 billion a year. The £1.5 million spends on research were not unwelcome, of course, and many important initiatives were identified. But not a penny was spent asking the question “why men?”.

The assumption is that it’s all too easy to understand gender bias in suicide. Remember those lazy truisms? Men drink more, visit the doctor less, and take more fatal methods. And yet the female suicide rate has halved since the early 1980s. The problem doesn’t then appear to simply biological. We have to go beyond these surface indicators and ask what is going on.

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