Adulting

Suicide: A War of Stigmas   

You would never know
I have planned to end my life on three separate occasions. The first time was a reaction to news that my father had unexpectedly died. The second was a test to see if I could actually do it. The third time was premeditated, note written and everything. After the last time, I admitted I was not ok. I let go of my ego, ignored the stigmas and started seeing a counselor. My family doesn’t know I went through these experiences and even my closest friends will find this surprising. It is for this exact reason that I am writing this article in first person; to share my experience.

In correlation with November Is For The Boys, this is the final article in our men’s health series. It was originally meant to touch on the broader topic of mental health, but the subject was too expansive to boil down. As such, the following article focuses on suicide, including statistics and what drives some men to contemplate and/or commit it. We understand this is a hard subject. It’s much easier to just turn on a football game or scroll through Instagram, but we’re asking that you stick with us through at least the next few sentences.

Many people you know- friends and even family members – are in the midst of an internal war
Our country is facing a mental health crisis, and in order to support those in need, it is our duty to have these difficult conversations. For those of you who are embattled in this struggle, there is an answer that doesn’t involve ending your life. It is ok to not be ok.

The facts

  • 80% of the 300,000 people who commit suicide each year are men
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States
  • There are 121 suicides a day
  • Approximately 12 people harm themselves for every one suicide
  • The suicide rate is 5.4 times higher for men ages 20-24 than females of the same age
  • 90% of suicides occur in the context of mental illness

There is not a singular answer for why this happens
Depression, which is often undiagnosed or untreated, is the most common condition associated with suicide. However, it’s often a combination of psychological and social factors that drive an individual to act. In his book, Lonely at the Top: The High Cost of Men’s Success, Thomas Joiner, Ph.D,  suggests three main motivational factors, which contribute to suicide.

  1. A sense of not belonging or of being alone;
  2. A sense of not contributing or of being a burden; and
  3. A capability for suicide or being unafraid to die.

Joiner states that all three motivational factors must be in place for an individual to act.

Socially
We all know our 20s are fucking brutal: we are at a point of identity consolidation with no money, no direction, too much social media and too many questions without enough answers. Confusion and perceived feelings of placelessness are magnified by rapidly evolving social dynamics, meaning that the very identity of what it means to be a man has shifted more in the last century than it has in the past 200,000 years.  

Factor in recent social movements like #MeToo and the associated guilt (even as a non-perpetrator) for being a male is a crushing weight. Combining with the guilt, there are headlines everyday that read “Men, Who Needs Them” and “The End of Men”. As a result, we find ourselves in a position where men are forced to rethink what it means to be a positive asset in today’s day and age. Is this a good thing? Yes. But for every male committing heinous acts of oppression or violence, there are many more men attempting to make the world a better place for everyone regardless of sexuality, gender or race.

Why bring this up?
The most successful, happy and promising individuals can be the ones enduring the most pain. For example, I lived with six of my best friends and they had no idea of what was going on with my psychological state. As men, we are socially conditioned to believe that vulnerability is a weakness and any emotion outside of anger has no place in our emotional quiver. Thus, when men face situations that unavoidably result in an emotional response beyond anger, we turn inward. When this happens we often develop a “my problems are my problems, no one else needs to be involved” mentality, which can lead to self destructive behaviors.   

What can we do about it?
You may never know if someone’s struggling, but if you do, take the time to reach out to them. Something like a smile, an e-mail or getting a beer could save a life. We are all in this together and suicide can be prevented. The following are risk factors or conditions that increase probability of suicide, and important things to watch out for:

 

Mental Health Conditions Environmental Factors Family History
  • Depression  
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Chronic health conditions
  • Stressful life events
  • Prolonged stress factors
  • Access to lethal means
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Family history of suicide

If you made it this far, I appreciate your time. I know it hasn’t been easy
These conversations are awful, but necessary. Of all the topics we have covered this month, suicide is the most preventable. You never know how your actions will affect someone else. Saving a life could be as easy as smiling as you cross the street. It could also be as difficult as admitting  you need help. If you do, there are resources available:

  • Call a friend or a family member to talk about what is going on. No matter how alone you may feel, there are people out there who care about you. Reach out to them.
  • Seek guidance and counseling. Mental health is no different than physical health. When you’re sick, you go to the doctor. When you’re suffering mentally, a counselor can make a world of difference and give you tools to get better.
  • If you find yourself in an emergency, you are never alone. Please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

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