Suicide. Seven letters, three syllables. An act that affects so many people. An event which leaves so many questions, never to be answered. A word that so few are able to say. Emotions that so few are willing to discuss openly.
Yesterday, I read this speech by Kevin Betts, an open letter to his father, who committed suicide. A young man who lost his father to something that seems so preventable. In it, he talks of how people reacted to his father taking his own life, and how, to many people, “suicide appeared to be a dirty way to die.”
Today, I researched some statistics. Typically, men are 3-4 times more likely to commit suicide than women. Only one country in the entire world, China, has a suicide rate for females that is higher than for males. In America, males aged between 20 and 24 are seven times more likely to commit suicide than females of the same age. But there was one statistic in particular that jumped out at me.
Less than 20% of young men who commit suicide had any contact with either their GP or mental health services in the year before they took their own life.
To put that statistic another way, out of every 5 young men that commits suicide, 4 of them feel unable to ask for professional help. There could be various reasons for this. Men are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol when in a bout of depression, which can both mask and exacerbate their feelings. When depressed, men are more likely to display feelings of anger, frustration and irritation than feelings of sadness, which may leave them unable to realise that they are, in fact, depressed. But for me, there is one reason, above all others, that is at fault for this, and that is the image of the “Alpha Male”.
Throughout history, men have been taught that to be the ‘strong, silent’ type is a virtue. They have been told that “boys don’t cry”. They don’t talk about ‘feelings’, because that is something “only girls do”, and to do so lowers your status as a man. These are lessons that have been bred for generations, traits that are taught from childhood.
It’s time for men to realise that this is bullshit. There is nothing brave about bottling up your emotions to the point where you feel suicide is the only option. There is nothing manly about shutting people who love you out from the truth of what you are going through.
I read the excellent book “A Life Too Short” by Ronald Reng, which is about the German footballer Robert Enke’s struggles with depression, which ultimately ended with him committing suicide. The saddest part of the book, for me, is that the “Alpha Male” culture in football left him feeling unable to seek the help he needed. He was scared of the reaction if he revealed he suffered with mental health problems. The stigma was too great for him to be honest about the help he needed.
Would things have been different if Enke had been open about what he was going through? It’s a question that can never be answered. But if it hadn’t have been for the stereotypical view of what a man should be, maybe he could have received more help and support, and maybe his wife wouldn’t be a widow.
Nowadays, there is so much support available for people with suicidal thoughts. Confidentiality laws mean that you can seek help without fear of it becoming public knowledge. The internet enables you to talk to people completely anonymously, to seek support without anybody ever knowing who you are. There is no excuse for anybody to take their own life without seeking help first. But you have to seek the help. You have to be open. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
My name is Andrew Lawes. I am 27 years old. I have suffered from depression since, at least, my early teens. I have self-harmed. I have felt like I’m going insane. And yes, at times, I have wanted to end my own life. I have had suicidal wishes. At times, it felt like the only escape from the insanity that seemed to have become my mind. I have told my story, and I sought help. I am not ashamed to say that I still struggle now. Each day brings its own challenges. I get through, because I have the help and support of doctors, friends and family. I am still alive, but without that help, I may well be dead.
It isn’t easy to be open about how you feel. But to those men who think bottling it all up is brave, you need to realise that being open about your feelings is a thousand times braver. However bad life seems, right now, you are still alive. There is still the chance it can get better. Whatever has happened in your life, be proud of the fact you are still here fighting, when so many have given up. Be proud that you have made it this far. If you are feeling suicidal, don’t lock it away inside yourself. Talk to your friends, to your partner, to your doctor. Any fight is easier when you fight it with others by your side.
You don’t have to go through this by yourself. However isolated you feel, however much you are convinced nobody will understand, let me tell you now, you are not alone. You are never alone. Even if you are scared, be honest about your feelings. Seek help, because the alternative isn’t worth thinking about.
As for the “Alpha Male” culture, it’s time it was cast aside like the relic it is. The bravest thing I have ever done was admitting how scared I was of the thoughts that went through my head. The manliest thing that I have ever done is ask for help, because I can’t handle the world without it.
Be a man. Get help.
To quote Buffy Summers: “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live.”
Originally published October 4, 2012