Complex causes behind rising suicide rates among men

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Gender expectations have existed for all of human history. But these expectations are all too confining and can prove detrimental. These societal pressures may even play a factor in leading some to take their own life.  

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), men die by suicide 3.54 times more often than women in the United States despite the fact that women attempt suicide 1.4 times more often than men. And in 2017, AFSP found that 69.67% of the year’s suicide deaths were white males. 

The topic of suicide is a complicated one with numerous factors at play, one of them being the expectations society feeds us.  

Senior Tyler Ackerman believes this trend may be due to how many men struggle with sharing their emotions.  

“I think on average, it’s harder for males to talk about emotions and especially these types of emotions that will fester in someone and eventually lead to an unfortunate suicide,” said Ackerman.  

This may be a fairly easy behavior to recognize, but knowing why this behavior exists in the first place is an entirely different matter with no clear answer.  

Senior Liam Fagan thinks that the way one is raised contributes  to this kind of mindset in males.  

“A lot of men are raised to be very organized and keep everything together and not be as artistic or abstract or thoughtful,” he said. 

Ackerman admitted that he sometimes exhibits this kind of behavior of wanting to create and maintain order.  

“I want people to think I have control over my life,” Ackerman said. “I definitely struggle with talking about emotions sometimes or just talking about what’s actually going through my head.” 

Social worker AJ Gomberg said that these messages received in childhood about the importance of “being a man” or simply not being encouraged to seek help when they need it, aid in developing that confining mindset.  

“We all know these traditional stereotypes of how guys are told to suck it up and be strong and girls are consoled and have a positive response when expressing needs and pain, emotional or physical,” said Gomberg. “I absolutely think those messages in early childhood make it harder for boys and young men to seek help, to initiate it, to ask for it, and just accept it.” 

From a female perspective, junior Lucy Traynor thinks this mindset is largely molded by societal expectations and sexism.  

“We think of sexism as mostly girls because it’s usually aimed at girls, but it can go both ways,” she said. “I think the gender norms of how guys should act is the reason why guys are less likely to get help.” 

Fagan also acknowledged this point as a possible cause for this toxic behavior in males. He thinks that society often fails to address or even acknowledge the struggles of men fully. 

“I think we unconsciously think that men’s problems don’t really matter as much because obviously men have had a higher place in society for a majority of human history and it’s not until a very small recent portion of human history that women are being viewed equally,” he explained. “This is a time where the focus is more on equality and raising women up and so any time the focus is shifted towards men, it’s viewed as an attack or it’s unfair.” 

Fagan pointed out that he doesn’t think equality is the core cause of these behaviors in men, but believes it has limited room for discussions regarding men and their masculinity. He reasoned that because society doesn’t shed much light on men’s struggles, it encourages men to continue to bottle up their emotions since their aren’t many people open to talking about them.  

Societal expectations alone are only one factor of many that may hold some influence in bringing someone to take their life. Factors such as access to firearms, unemployment, or bullying can play large roles as well. In fact, the AFSP reported that 50.57% of suicides were carried out with firearms.  

“On average, [I think among] those that are into hunting or that own a firearm, you would see a disproportionate amount of men who own firearms,” said Gomberg. “[But] I think there must be more factors that weigh into that other than access.” 

With no clear single answer explaining this behavior, there’s isn’t a sure-fire solution.  

Traynor pointed out that shifting the whole narrative of the matter as a society, while most ideal, is unrealistic. Instead changing how we raise young boys  will bring more realastic change.

“By teaching boys right off the bat that [expressing their emotions] is okay, they’ll be more likely to go into the world more comfortable with themselves,” Traynor said. 

Along with being raised in a way that encourages emotional expression, Gomberg said it’s crucial for young people to practice these behaviors so that the foundation laid in their childhood could last for the rest of their life. 

“The more our young people learn and practice these skills of putting words to their feelings and trusting someone and being open and vulnerable, [the more it prevents them] from the future ‘manbox’ boxing them in,” he said. 

Fagan emphasized that the opportunities men and women are given to express themselves are key components in reshaping current societal expectations. 

“If you give men and women equal opportunities to express themselves, it will make things easier,” Fagan said. “If you don’t allow girls to participate in a certain sport or you don’t allow guys to participate in a certain class, that’s where problems are created because you’re denying someone the opportunity to express themselves in a way that they want to.” 

 

There is always someone to talk to

If you feel you or a friend are at risk and need support, the following resources are available to help

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

 

NT Social Work: Winnetka – Room 225

Northfield – Room B230

Text NSHELP912 to 844-823-5323 for the social work office

More resources available at: 

https://www.newtrier.k12.il.us/socialwork/

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