Dan­ger­ous ex­pec­ta­tions

Why are male sui­cide rates so high? Lee Suck­ling be­lieves so­ci­ety’s pres­sure on men to con­form to nar­row ideal is not help­ing.

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - PERSPECTIVES -

There’s no such thing as male priv­i­lege when it comes to sui­cide.

In­ter­na­tional sta­tis­tics con­firm we’re three times more likely than women to take our own lives. For guys un­der 45, it’s the pri­mary cause of death.

Though women are worse off in many ways in so­ci­ety, this is one is­sue that dis­pro­por­tion­ally af­fects men.

In New Zealand, it’s ar­guably our “har­den up” rugby-fu­elled cul­ture that forces guys to keep their feel­ings in­side and not seek help when they’re hav­ing sui­ci­dal thoughts.

Over­seas, this men­tal­ity doesn’t ex­ist to the same ex­tent (though there are ex­cep­tions, eg Aus­tralia).

How­ever, sui­cide is still more com­mon among men, all over the world. What’s go­ing on? Health pro­fes­sion­als, politi­cians and me­dia con­stantly talk of the un­met need in terms of this prob­lem (and plans to al­le­vi­ate the prob­lem), yet the sui­cide stats don’t go down.

Across Western so­ci­ety it seems all peo­ple – not just males – are only de­serv­ing of help when they’re al­ready way down the track.

Where are the pre­ven­ta­tive ser­vices? More im­por­tantly, why aren’t those most vo­cal in so­ci­ety push­ing to change the bur­dens that men are faced with?

In ad­di­tion to talk­ing about more fund­ing for men­tal health care – more providers and bet­ter sup­port for peo­ple to man­age life’s pres­sures – why aren’t we also step­ping back to fig­ure out how we can re­lieve those pres­sures in the first place?

Male priv­i­lege ex­tends to most facets of life. Men get paid more, they en­joy un­earned ad­van­tages and in many parts of so­ci­ety they’re given greater sta­tus. It’s also as­sumed that they aren’t judged as harshly as women.

I dis­agree on that last point. While we’re not fat-shamed, age-shamed, slut-shamed or mum-shamed, we are bloke-shamed.

Men are forced to self-cen­sor in or­der to con­form to an ideal that dis­cour­ages out­ward ex­pres­sions of sad­ness, strug­gle or weak­ness.

De­spite the leaps we make in gen­der equal­ity, men re­main looked down on when they’re not phys­i­cally, emo­tion­ally and fi­nan­cially su­pe­rior be­ings.

In New Zealand it’s queer, Maori and Pa­cific men that are most af­fected by these ex­pec­ta­tions (and sub­se­quently shamed for non-con­form­ity).

In fact, the sui­cide rate for Maori men is one of the high­est: they are 1.4 times more likely to take their own lives than non-Maori men.

We have se­ri­ous prob­lems around the male cul­tural iden­tity. The stan­dards placed upon us by our peers (and not just male peers) are sti­fling and dan­ger­ous.

Ev­ery­where from the school­yard to the 24/7 mul­ti­ple-chan­nel of­fer­ings of TV sports, we men are told who to be and there’s lit­tle space for in­di­vid­u­al­ity within that.

This is some­thing we all must fig­ure out how to stop.

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