By Dennis Gillan
Note: This blog is presented as a cross-collaboration between NAMI and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, whose mission is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide. It originally appeared on the AFSP Lifesavers Blog.
Dude. Dudes. It’s time for some real talk. Let’s get real here and look at the numbers. According to the latest figures from the Center for Disease Control, men are responsible for 76.92 percent of all completed suicides. Basically, about four out of every five completed suicides is a guy.
Yet here in South Carolina, where I’m on the local state board for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, I notice that every time we do a public mental health awareness program, about 80 percent of the attendees are women. A lot of these women show up because they’ve lost a loved one to suicide, and much of the time, the loved one they’ve lost was a man.
The numbers tell us a lot of men out there are suffering…but most men aren’t showing up to get help, raise awareness, or help encourage their fellow bros to talk about what they’re going through.
I’d like to ask all the women reading this blog post to leave the room for a minute.
Are they gone? Cool. Dudes, it’s just us now. Let’s talk.
I lost two brothers to suicide. That’s right. Two. 11 years apart. Mark and Matthew. After the second one, I found myself in a very dark place. Sobriety, counseling, and time have helped me immensely, and in 2010 I started to volunteer for AFSP, and this has accelerated my recovery even further. It has taken me years to get to this point, but when you start helping other survivors of suicide loss and start focusing on preventing future occurrences of completed suicides, you ultimately end up helping yourself. My work with AFSP has benefited me greatly on a personal level, but I am still very bothered by what is happening with men and suicide.
So, I’m going to turn this around on you now, and ask for your help. First, a couple questions:
I personally think the first step is for us dudes to become more comfortable talking about it. How can we get our fellow men to open up? First of all, let’s realize that when we show vulnerability, we are actually showing strength. We need to focus on forming some really tight connections with each other. Once those are in place, we need to get comfortable sharing real life situations, knowing full well that two (or more) brains are better than one. How do we get our other dude buddies to feel comfortable doing this?
For me, I am involved in a faith-based, men’s-only group that meets every Friday. We in the group have grown together to a place where we are quite comfortable admitting to each other when we’re screw ups, or when we’re worried about something…but that has taken some time. That’s just one example. I saw recently that the construction industry is including mental health into their meetings, and the NCAA is addressing mental health issues through their Sport Science Institute. Progress!
Maybe another tactic is to keep things light. One thing I’m thinking about doing is hosting a men’s only comedy night with a mental health theme. Laughter helps people feel relaxed. Maybe if we guys can sit around, talk about feelings – I know, a lot of us hate that word—in a light way, it can help us become more comfortable opening up.
Another thought I had in terms of encouraging our fellow men to join our efforts in suicide prevention is to not make it too time consuming. Men tend to volunteer in spurts. We’ll do a golf outing, but mention a three-year commitment to a board and most of us are out the door. It’s important to remember that we can all get involved within the constraints of our own personal comfort zone. Every little bit helps. Dip your toe in the pool. The water’s warm.
No matter what strategies we use, the overall message is simple: mental health and suicide are okay to talk about, and we all matter. Talk Saves Lives.
So, what are your thoughts? If you’re a guy and have been impacted by mental health conditions or possibly a suicide attempt or a loss, reach out for help, or come help us at AFSP. Get off your duff and find your local chapter and volunteer for something — anything! Even just making a point to talk matter-of-factly about mental health and feelings (jeez, that word again!) with your friends makes a difference, because it lets them know you’re a safe person to talk to when they have something to say.
Women – I can see you’ve stepped back in, now, that’s okay – do what you can to drag the men in your life to a community walk, a survivor’s meeting, or somewhere you feel they can benefit from, but might not feel comfortable going to themselves. Many of us will not do it without your help.
Finally, think about ways we can better reach men about suicide prevention, and share your ideas. Come at us with all you’ve got. If we want to lower the suicide rate 20 percent by 2025, we’ve got to put the men back into mental health.
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