How Do We Get the Men into Mental Health?

SEP. 08, 2017

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’ll start.

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:

  • Why is the number for male suicide so high?
  • How do we lower it?

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.


OCT, 20, 2017 04:33:02 PM
Shirley Moore
Start as early as possible when little boys or teens voice suicidal idealizations and do not assume they are all better because that get past the first time voicing their feelings. They tend to cycle back to that place many time s before they really act on it or succeed. Mentally ill people need regular check ups to make sure they are not having the reoccurring ideations They also need to be trained to know their own symptoms and how to help themselves until they can get help. The fact that homicidal ideations often occur to those that are prone to be suicidal should also be addressed. We need to focus on addressing their being a danger to themselves or others.

OCT, 12, 2017 07:29:24 PM
I feel fortunate that I was able to talk about my mental illness with a male friend, who also suffers from mental illness. His experience, though 10 years earlier, was very similar to mine, and he talked me through a lot until I was able to get the help I needed. Not all are so fortunate. If men become more willing\courageous to speak up about it, and if society is more willing to let go of the stigma, I believe that more can be done to stem the tide of suicides in this country.

OCT, 09, 2017 02:15:58 AM
Debbie Hennessy
Suicide by men is much more likely for several reasons. First, men are far less likely to seek help for signs of depression and suicidal ideology, secondly male motives can be triggered by far more outside sources, such as financial issues, unemployment, inability to maintain their family. Thirdly men utilize more deadly methods in their attempts than woman. Woman seem to be more passive in their attempts such as overdose, whereas men are more likely to use firearms.

SEP, 29, 2017 02:29:34 PM
Cathleen Pendzimas
You are 'not' alone, talk to someone. Please, reach out to anyone close, or any adult such as a doctor, or family member. If you've tried 'one' treatment that doesn't work, or causes undesirable side effects, talk to your doctor and try another. There are so many other treatments and support available!

SEP, 28, 2017 10:11:01 PM
Minoo Mobin-Ventura
Thank you very true!

SEP, 28, 2017 09:30:31 AM
Philip Kaplan
I appreciate reading this article! As a 38 year old man (and active NAMI volunteer) who battles severe depression, I think it is long overdue that we deal with the big "elephant in the room" of the mental health field: the general unwillingness of guys to open up about personal issues and the continued cultural stigma against men doing so. More specifically, men are still very much told by society to be white knights, to be strong and tough and macho, to not show weakness or vulnerability, and to judge their self-worth and their manhood on their external achievements (most of the time money-based and professional status based). Worst of all, men are still uncomfortable opening up about insecurity and confusion regarding women. Let's face it, being a single guy trying to date in the 21st century is a nightmare of double binds, catch-22s, and no-win situations, but no guy wants to admit to having trouble with women. Ever notice how women do most of the talking on relationship/sexuality/dating issues? The narrative for these topics is invariably a female one because we men have largely self-selected ourselves out of the discussion and have thus implicitly given everyone the message that men don't have real feelings on these topics. We need to find a way to talk about this honestly because male relationship loneliness is a huge contributing factor to male depression, and it affects men in ways that are very different from the ways it affects women. I applaud any movement toward getting men to open up about these issues without shame or self-judgment. It's the only way we can make the world better.

SEP, 28, 2017 07:49:58 AM
We need to help men find comfortable pathways to wellness-your ideas are right on!

SEP, 27, 2017 08:06:06 PM
Lefford Fate
This is so powerful and true. Please let me know what I can do to help. I live in Sumter and want to help.

SEP, 27, 2017 08:03:23 PM
Howie Ohler
Growing up I had three close friends each loose a very intelligent and creative parent to suicide. All three also had a significant impact on my life. I continue to learn about my grandfather who made many attempts himself. My mother relays her father went to his bedroom many nights with a ring around his lips after drinking iodine. He endured electro-shock treatment many times through the 1940's. Now in my 60's, I've lost two friends who were convinced raising their endorphins daily by running/exorcizing would help them through their depression. They were sadly mistaken. We must ask each other, "Are you okay?" and stay involved with loved ones, friends and co-workers. The larger question is, "Can we incorporate this important truth into our lives and mindsets?" Surely this is as important as CPR and the Heimlich maneuver?

SEP, 27, 2017 07:04:31 PM
Richard Gardner
I am a 60 year old bipolar man. (I am also president of NAMI of Berks County, PA.) I have lived with suicide ideation for many, many years. The first and easiest step is to remove the guns from a home. This one step puts a tremendous hurdle in front of men completing suicides. (In fact, after shooting off the ammo at a shooting range, we had a bonfire with the firearms we owned as the guests of honor.) After that step, then we can start working on the roots of male suicide.

SEP, 15, 2017 01:06:44 PM
Larry Newberry
Many cultural factors. The stigma. Fear of loss of job, friends, family support. So many reasons.

SEP, 11, 2017 10:28:38 PM
Tom Neal

SEP, 11, 2017 10:27:27 PM
Tom Neal

SEP, 11, 2017 10:26:11 PM
Tom Neal
As a schizophrenic,who has dealt-intensely--w/sometimeSuicidal thinking& "actions"(iSmoke)-_would like,thisSubject--talked about,more frankly--And I thinkTHIS author's intent,is a VERY real beginning& "starting point"..12Step pgm,savedMY-life ;)

SEP, 10, 2017 07:06:44 PM
Brenda Ross
Having a support group might be helpful. It is good to know you are not alone. Having friends with similar problems would help.

SEP, 10, 2017 06:54:55 PM
Brenda Ross
I need to find out where local meetings are here in Memphis. I would like for my son to get involved in a group.

SEP, 10, 2017 03:44:52 PM
BY reading this article i noticed that mostly suicides are caused by <a href=""> mental health</a>

SEP, 09, 2017 01:03:24 PM
Diva Livingston
I agree, as a woman, that women are more comfortable talking about emotions, which has a lot to do with early conditioning of males a to not show their feelings. It's a male pardigm that can be shifted by raising awareness: and it seems like this article offers several approaches which are helpful. The male gender can grow into their freedom to talk about being disappointed with an event or their whole life for that matter. Being vulnerable is a strength, and it is not as risky as it seems at first. Like anything you gain the ability to get better at a new or not often tried experience. It becomes easier with practice. Keep going! We are there for you cheering you on. Feelings rock!

SEP, 08, 2017 03:28:04 PM
chris mckowen
I've worked in mental health for 20 years, and would love to help strategize with others. I've lost clients...and a couple of suicide. Is there a way to connect with others via this blog?

SEP, 08, 2017 02:55:52 PM
My comment is that we not Alone stay together is Powerful Thing.

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