Updated: Jul 6, 2021
Every year thousands of men in the UK commit suicide, leaving behind their friends, families and loved ones to deal with the tragic aftermath. 2019 saw the highest rates of male suicide in the UK since the year 2000. The most at risk group within these figures were said to be middle-aged men. With the ongoing stress and economic upheaval of Covid 19 who knows what the figures for this year will be.
Suicide is always a distressing and challenging subject to discuss. When I first raised this article with the editing team here at 50plus4men.com, I did have some push back. Some members of the team weren't sure that suicide was something that we wanted to talk about on a site dedicated to encouraging men over 50 to live their best lives. I have to admit, I did question its suitability myself, but after we looked at the figures and the impact that suicide is having on people like us, we decided as a team that this was a subject we had to tackle.
What are the facts about suicide amongst men who are 50plus?
Men are 3 times more likely to take their own lives than their female counterparts. In terms of age, gender and socio-economic status, the statistics are clear, the group most at risk of suicide are men, in the lowest social class, in their mid-years. Data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicates that of the 5691 suicide deaths registered in the UK in 2019, 4303 were men whilst 1388 were women. This phenomenon of high rates of suicide amongst men who are 50 and over is something that is found across the globe. Rich or poor, black or white across around the world the number of men who are 50 plus and who are killing themselves is on the rise.
Why are more men than ever who are 50plus killing themselves?
Personality traits. Mental health issues, particularly depression, when combined with certain personality traits or mindsets such as the desire to be perfect, self-criticism, brooding, and a lack of positive thoughts about the future, can create a volatile emotional state. A state which when combined with a trigger factor such as unemployment, social isolation, or a relationship breakdown can become toxic and lead to significantly increased risk of suicide. NOTE only a very small minority of people suffering from mental health issues are suicidal.
Masculinity. The (now many might say outdated) masculine "gold standard" of power, control and invincibility against which many of us measure ourselves can be very damaging on those occasions when we feel we have fallen short. Some will feel compelled by these ideas about masculinity towards suicide, seeing taking their own lives as a way of regaining control in the face of depression or other mental health problems.
Relationship breakdown. A breakdown in a serious relationship can be difficult at any time of life, but for some men of 50plus it can be truly devastating. Whatever we might like to say to each other, or even think, research shows that many men rely more heavily on their partners for emotional support and therefore we can suffer this kind of loss far more acutely. While women maintain close same-sex relationships across their lives, some men find that their peer relationships drop away after 30 and so by the time we get to 50 plus many of us don't have friends that we feel able to discuss these kinds of deeply personal matters. Divorced men seem to have more thoughts about suicide than divorced women in fact separated men are twice as likely as separated women to have planned suicide.
Challenges of mid-life. Many men over 50 find themselves caught up in a rip-tide of economic and social change. We are the last truly analogue generation attempting to find our way in today's digital world. Unemployment and relationship collapse can mean new challenges at a point when many of us had hoped to be able to kick back. Part of the so-called ‘buffer’ generation, we get caught between the more traditional, strong, silent, austere model of manhood we grew up with and the younger, more progressive, individualistic world that we now live in. Today men are less likely to have one life-long female partner and more likely to live alone without the social or emotional skills to fall back on, while also facing increased economic pressures.
Emotional illiteracy Generally, we (men who are over 50) just aren't good at talking about our emotions. we can experience what some people have called the big build; We don’t recognise or deal with our distress, but let it build up to breaking point. A breaking point can lead to suicide.
If you're feeling suicidal it's important to talk to someone. All details below have been taken from the NHS website.
Phone a helpline
These free helplines are there to help when you're feeling down or desperate.
Unless it says otherwise, they're open 24 hours a day, every day.
Samaritans – for everyone
Call 116 123
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – for men
Call 0800 58 58 58 – 5 pm to midnight every day
Visit the webchat page
Papyrus – for people under 35
Call 0800 068 41 41 – Monday to Friday 9 am to 10 pm, weekends and bank holidays 2 pm to 10 pm
Text 07860 039967
Childline – for children and young people under 19
Call 0800 1111 – the number will not show up on your phone bill
Talk to someone you trust.
Let family or friends know what's going on for you. They may be able to offer support and help keep you safe.
There's no right or wrong way to talk about suicidal feelings – starting the conversation is what's important.
Who else you can talk to?
If you find it difficult to talk to someone you know, you could:
call your GP – ask for an emergency appointment
call 111 out of hours – they will help you find the support and help you need
contact your mental health crisis team – if you have one
Important: Is your life in danger?
If you have seriously harmed yourself – for example, by taking a drug overdose – call 999 for an ambulance or go straight to A&E.
Or ask someone else to call 999 or take you to A&E.
Tips for coping right now:
try not to think about the future – just focus on getting through today
stay away from drugs and alcohol
get yourself to a safe place, like a friend's house
be around other people
do something you usually enjoy, such as spending time with a pet
Worried about someone else?
If you're worried about someone, try to get them to talk to you. Ask open-ended questions like: "How do you feel about...?"
Do not worry about having the answers. Just listening to what someone has to say and taking it seriously can be more helpful.
See Samaritans' tips on how to start a difficult conversation.
Rethink also has advice on how to support someone who is having suicidal thoughts.
Making a safety plan:
If you struggle with suicidal thoughts or are supporting someone else, it may help to make a safety plan to use if you need it:
the Staying Safe website provides information on how to make a safety plan, including video tutorials and online templates to guide you through the process
the mental health charity Mind also provides information on planning for a mental health crisis
Final Thoughts from all the team at 50plus.
If you are having suicidal thoughts or know somebody who is, get help. Even if you (or they) don't feel able to talk to friends or family there are people out there who can and will help. We don't have to suffer in silence. There is no shame in getting help. Those who love will always be grateful that you did.