By Nieves Murray, CEO, Suicide Prevention Australia and Glen Poole, CEO, Australian Men’s Health Forum
Suicide claims the lives of eight Australians every day. Three in four people who die by suicide are men, yet the majority of people reached by mental health and suicide prevention services are women. So how do we reach more men who are doing it tough and help prevent more suicides?
International Men’s Day (19 November 2022) is a time to focus on some of the social issues that impact men and boys and discuss possible solutions. This year’s theme in Australia is “Celebrating Mateship” and while it may seem frivolous, mateship has a role to play in tackling serious issues like male suicide.
Suicide is the leading killer of men under 55. In 2021, a total of 3,134 people in Australia took their own lives and 75% were men (2,358 male suicides and 786 female suicides). In addition, ambulances respond to over 16,800 calls a year from men experiencing suicidal ideation and a further 9,000 ambulances respond to suicide attempts.
Global evidence shows that a focus on mental illness alone does not work. For starters, our system too often fails men in need of support. Some men find clinical services disjointed, difficult to use and will walk away after one session. Suicide Prevention Australia worked with over twenty leading men’s health organisations to identify the gaps in the system, and the loudest message was that men need someone working with them – not for them.
Research by the Ten to Men Study found that men who lack social connection are twice as likely to experience suicidal thoughts. It seems that having mates really can reduce men’s risk of suicide.
Mateship goes further than simply having friends, it is a uniquely Australian masculine value and virtue. So it shouldn’t be surprising that many strengths-based, men’s health projects have harnessed this positive, masculine trait.
The men’s sheds movement, for example, prides itself on providing safe and busy environments where men can enjoy an atmosphere of “old-fashioned mateship”. Visit a few sheds and you’ll soon find anecdotal evidence of sheds doing suicide prevention by stealth and saving numerous men from suicide.
A more direct approach is MATES In Construction which has been working to prevent suicide in male-dominated industries since 2008. MATES builds on the Aussie characteristic of mateship by giving workers the tools they need to look out for their mates’ mental health.
These two services demonstrate that it’s essential to reach men where they are; like workplaces or community settings and sporting clubs. While medical interventions play a critical role in suicide prevention, relying solely on the medical system to catch those who fall through the cracks is dangerous, and it is clearly not working.
We believe that suicide prevention is everyone’s business. Local communities can play a vital role in spotting people at risk of suicide, which is why we invest millions of dollars to train communities to be part of the solution. Yet there is one group of people who the training keeps missing and that is men.
Finding innovative ways to give more men the skills they need to look out for their mates is one way we can harness mateship to help prevent male suicide. The new ‘Helping A Mate Doing it Tough’ guide published by the Australian Men’s Health Forum for International Men’s Day, is one resource that can help achieve this.
Australia is fortunate to be one of the few countries in the world to have a National Men’s Health Strategy, which calls for services to be designed in male-centered ways that respond to the needs and preferences of men and boys. This principle needs to be backed by funding for male suicide prevention initiatives, ideally delivered as a core stream within a national suicide prevention strategy.
If we want to reduce male suicide in Australia, we need to begin by fundamentally changing how we approach the issue. Men need to be given the time and space to talk with and around other men. This is mateship in action and the government can facilitate this by providing funding to peer-led support programs and new community initiatives.
We all have a role to play in suicide prevention and reaching out to someone who might be struggling to ask them what might help is a good start. Also, the website Doing It Tough can be helpful as it connects men in NSW who are looking for support with local groups and community organisations.
As well as directing more men to existing services, we need to get better at responding to the social issues that are known to increase men’s risk of suicide. These include work problems, financial trouble, relationship issues, contact with legal and criminal justice system and drug and alcohol abuse.
If we can identify people impacted by these stressors and offer peer-led community programs, perhaps Australia can begin to turn the tide of male suicide.
To get help 24/7, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. If you or someone you know are in immediate danger, phone 000 for emergency services.
Clare Kinsella 0427 689 689 email@example.com
Amelia Hew 0410 591 134 firstname.lastname@example.org
Help to report about suicide safely is available online: Go to https://mindframe.org.au/
About Suicide Prevention Australia
Suicide Prevention Australia is the national peak body and we’ve been providing support for Australia’s suicide prevention sector for more than 25 years. We support and advocate for our members to drive continual improvement in suicide prevention policy, programs and services. Our reach is broad, including member organisations, governments, businesses, researchers, practitioners and those with lived experience. We are focused on an integrated approach to suicide prevention encompassing mental health, social, economic and community factors. We believe that through collaborative effort and shared purpose, we can achieve our vision of a world without suicide.