Today is International Men’s Day, a day to shine the spotlight on men and boy’s health, and celebrate the positive contributions made by men in our communities.
When I started at Suicide Prevention Australia a couple of years ago, I came into this sector with the common misconception that, in Australia, the highest rates of suicide were among young people. This was perhaps, a testament to the great work done by our partners over the past 10-15 years on developing and implementing suicide prevention programs specifically for at risk youth. And, while we must always have a focus on young people, we must keep a keen eye on what the statistics are telling us in terms of at risk groups.
However, what I quickly realised after reviewing the data available on suicide deaths in Australia, is that, with the exception of males over 85, the highest rates of suicide occur among males in their middle years (30-59). In fact, suicide is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 44, significantly exceeding the national road toll. Disturbingly, the rate of suicide deaths for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men is four times that of non-Indigenous youth.
I found this information absolutely staggering – that Australian men are taking their own lives in what is arguably the most productive points in their lives, the ‘prime’ of their lives in terms of family, employment and their potential to positively contribute to the community. In the Suicide Prevention Australia: Work and Suicide Prevention Position Statement we looked at the cost of suicide and suicidal behaviour to the Australian economy, as well as the relationship between stress and work related suicide. While no detailed and independent costing exists on the cost of suicide and suicidal behaviour, every death has a significant financial impact as well as the emotional impact it has on those touched by suicide of a loved one or colleague.
Suicide is everyone’s business. It does not discriminate. Men of all ages and backgrounds can be at risk of suicide. Statistics tell us that the men who are at most risk are:
- Young or in their middle years (20 to 44 years old);
- Older men (over 75);
- Men living in rural and remote areas;
- Men in prison or custody;
- Men from Indigenous communities; and
- Men undergoing traumatic life events.
Potentially traumatic life events that may increase men’s likelihood of suicide include relationship breakdown, separation from children, unemployment, financial stress and social isolation. For some, these events can lead to feelings of shame and guilt, which can further increase risk (Commonwealth of Australia, 2007).
So what’s being done about this?
In recent years, we have seen SPA members seeking to address this population with campaigns that are designed by and for men – ranging from crisis services to preventative support programs in male dominated workplaces. Some great examples of this are MensLine Australia, Men’s Sheds by Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA), Man Therapy, Mates in Construction Australia and many more. The Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Report released today similarly showed a number of improvements in the health and wellbeing for Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Peoples, but also the gaps that remain and require urgent attention.
We are seeing more opportunities for men to talk about what’s going on in their lives in a safe and supportive manner, that works for them. We need to continue to celebrate positive male role models and encouraging our boys to see speaking up when times are tough as a strength not a weakness.
Times are changing and I hope we will see the reduction in male suicide deaths as a result. On International Men’s Day, SPA celebrates all those working on programs to support men and those men in our communities who are leading by example in managing their personal health and wellbeing.
P.S. Did you know that it’s Go Home On Time Day today? It may seem like a small thing but paying close attention to your work life balance can make a huge difference to your mental wellbeing. Try to go home from work on time today. I know I will be!
*Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2012