Male mental health and suicide in the mediaThursday, May 4, 2017
Prahran Psychology would like to welcome our latest student blogger, Giorgia Sala. Please enjoy this fantastic article on male mental health.
Male Mental Health and Suicide in the Media
A lot of people have watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. I have been avoiding it for several reasons; firstly, being a psychology student means my sources of entertainment are generally removed from the things I’m studying (apart from a few warm-and-fuzzy Carl Rogers and mindfulness books). Secondly, the show seems gratuitous; I think discussions around suicide can take place without graphically depicting the event itself. Alarmingly, youth mental health service Headspace has issued a warning over the show due to an influx of calls from young people who’ve found the show distressing and triggering, as well as from their parents and schools (Headspace: dangerous content, 2017).
Although 13 Reasons Why seems problematic, media outlets do have an important role to play in raising awareness of suicide. In Australia, suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 44; 8 people die by suicide each day and it is estimated that 30 people make an attempt. Sadly, the rate of Indigenous Australians dying by suicide is also double that of non-Indigenous Australians. Men are also three times more likely to die by suicide than women in Australia, even though the rates of female deaths by suicide have increased as well in the last ten years (Statistics on Suicide in Australia, 2017). This is a common pattern; suicide is the second most common cause of mortality for young men across the world, after accidental death (Pitman, Krysinka, Osborn, & King, 2012). Fortunately, this is gaining traction in the media and people are starting to talk about the role that traditional notions of masculinity play in this problem:
- The ABC’s series ‘You Can’t Ask That’ aired an episode where people who had survived suicide answer a series of questions we all want to ask, but can’t usually. A number of the participants were men, some of whom had lasting impacts from their attempts. This is available for viewing on ABC iview online, though I would recommend watching it with someone else, and not straight before bed so you have time to debrief and take your mind off it.
- Huffington Post Australia is working with Lifeline and has made this video which depicts a number of personal stories from men who’ve been suicidal and family members who’ve lost loved ones.
- Movember released a video last year showing men reading out suicide notes they had written in the past as part of a social media campaign encouraging men to talk about their mental health.
Though there are many contributing risk factors to depression and suicidality, certain ideas of masculinity may play a part in men’s avoidance of help-seeking. Research and clinical anecdote suggests that men are often reluctant to talk about their problems and express emotions, because these behaviours are seen as more feminine (Emslie, Ridge, Ziebland, & Hunt, 2006). Needing to keep strong and silent can result in men battling on with their symptoms without seeking help, or labelling the way they feel as “stress” (Kilmartin, 2005; Pitman et al., 2012). Depression underlies about half of completed suicides; we need to encourage men to seek help and look out for their signs and symptoms: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/depression/signs-and-symptoms
Although it seems morbid and difficult to talk about depression and suicide, we really need to find ways of encouraging men to talk about their mental health. I think these videos do a good job of getting that message across. Luckily, our own counselling service, Man Up – Mental Health for Men has some ideas on how to do that. One of the first steps they recommend is for organisations, such as sporting clubs and workplaces, to encourage conversation around these issues. For men to ask each other how they’re going is an important shift which needs to occur; this could also help subvert the idea that it’s ‘not masculine’ to talk about your experiences.
We also need to keep an eye on people we care about. If you’re worried that somebody might harm themselves, things to look out for according to Headspace are threats to hurt or kill oneself, making plans and/or trying to access the means to do so, talking about death, expressing feelings of worthlessness, that life isn’t worth living or being a burden, engaging in risky behaviours, using substances more than usual, withdrawing from other people, changes in mood like increased irritation, less self-care in their appearance, giving away possessions and saying goodbye to loved ones.
If this sounds like you or anyone you know, please access mental health counselling.
You can contact:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
- Headspace on 1800 650 890
Doctor of Clinical Psychology student
Emslie, C., Ridge, D., Ziebland, S., & Hunt, K. (2006). Men’s accounts of depression: reconstructing or resisting hegemonic masculinity? Social Science and Medicine, 62(9), 2246-2257.
Headspace: dangerous content in 13 Reasons Why. (2017, April 29). Retrieved from https://www.headspace.org.au/news/dangerous-content-in-13-reasons-why/.
Kilmartin, C. (2005). Depression in men: Communication, diagnosis and therapy. Practicing Medicine, 2(1), 95-99.
Pitman, A., Krysinka, K., Osborn, D., & King, M. (2012). Suicide in young men. Aboriginal Policy Research Consortium International (APRCi). Paper 228.
Statistics on Suicide in Australia. (2017, May 3). Retrieved from https://www.lifeline.org.au/about-lifeline/lifeline-information/statistics-on-suicide-in-australia
Doctor of Psychology (Clinical) student
Provisional Psychologist (PSY0002095528)
School of Psychology, Faculty of Health