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  • Writer's pictureAli

Suicide Prevention Month: The Men

Welcome to our last week discussing this extremely heavy, but important topic of suicide prevention. We've discovered hard-won truths surrounding our people as a whole, our young people, and our marginalized groups. Now, we've arrived at the most vulnerable demographic group: our men. While this continues to be an emotionally taxing topic, it has become imperative to continue the conversation of love and life.

 

Since I'm not a man or part of the male identity, I certainly cannot speak in place of them, nor do I want to. However, I will be sharing a very vulnerable story that involves a man I love very much: my dad. Thankfully, he is not a victim of suicide, but I believe his life could've been at risk in the past. Let me explain the story:


My older sister and I were spending a weekend together, like many weekends before. She was staying home with her kids, and I needed to run errands. While arriving back to her house, I felt this overwhelming sense of sadness for my dad that was undeniable. Keep in mind, he and I had not spoken in months; and he and my older sister had not spoken in years. I heard this audible voice (from God, I believe) that gave indication that my dad was thinking about suicide. I had never experienced anything like this before, so I was both confused and shocked that I could've heard a voice that didn't belong to me. I believe that God, the Universe, or other deities that you may identify with have the power to speak directly to us, if we are only still enough to hear.

This outside voice said, "your dad wants to die. He wants to take his life." I remember my reaction very vividly. I cried and prayed for over an hour inside my car alone. I asked God to hold my dad and comfort him. I begged God to save his life, and that He would hold him near. A day or two later, I talked to my sister about the voice I heard and what was said. I sobbed while lying in bed next to her. To my surprise, she said, "I heard it too. I wasn't going to say anything, because I didn't want it to hurt you. I think God speaks to those who are willing to listen to Him. Do you want to pray?" Immediately, we prayed fervent prayers of covering over my dad, and I would continue to pray this same prayer for years.

I'm not sharing this story with you to persuade you into a religion or spiritual belief. I'm simply sharing my experience and how it relates to this subtopic. As we dive into the data and statistics, I think you'll come to the same understanding that I did then: my dad was at serious risk of suicide.

 

To start this week's research, I Googled, "why are men the highest demographic to die by suicide". I discovered articles with thesis research and statistics by well-known and familiar sources. In an article written by SSM Health titled, "Why are middle-aged white men more likely to die by suicide?", Dr. Lisa Baker explains the stigma surrounding men and the urge to "tough things out". She further explains that this stigma complicates their need to report mental health illness symptoms. In Dr. Baker's words, "mental health conditions are under-reported and under-detected in men, leaving them vulnerable to suicide." She goes on to say that life stressors such as, intimate partner problems, legal issues, unemployment/financial problems, and health concerns are the most common precipitating circumstances for suicides in middle-aged men.

The article gives additional insight to other potential contributing factors. It states, "people who live in rural areas are at higher risk of suicide than their urban counterparts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This, in part, can be explained by greater access to firearms, drug and alcohol use and a scarce of health care providers and emergency medical services. Cultural factors are also a barrier to accessing care and getting support from family and friends."


Additional statistics paint a clearer picture of men who have struggled with suicide:

  • The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the CDC concluded in 2019 that 22.4 out of 100,000 men or male aligned people died by suicide, compared to women or female aligned people at 6 per 100,000 the same year.

  • Male aligned people aged 75 and older were the highest demographic group in 2019 to die by suicide with 39.9 out of 100,000 men.

  • The second-highest age group are men ages 45-64 with 29.9 out of 100,000 people to die by suicide, with the third highest of males ages 25-44 within the same year (2019).

  • According to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), the male demographic accounts for 79% of all suicides in the U.S.


Another article written by Henry Ford Health System Staff gives additional insight into the minds of men. This FeelWell statement by Jeffrey Devore, Social Worker, MSW, LMSW, ACSW, concludes, "men are at increased risk of dying by suicide, in part because they choose more lethal means. They're also more likely to suffer in silence and try to deal with problems themselves, or they end up self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, which creates another risk factor." The social worker goes on to explain that if your parents (mother or father) have died by suicide, that the risk of suicide increases tenfold. This is potentially due to generational predisposition for being diagnosed with depression. Devore states that family history could relay the message that suicide is an acceptable way to escape emotional struggles. While I don't entirely agree with Devore's last statement, I firmly believe that some people could have that experience. From the men that I know personally who have dealt with familial suicide, they did not share Devore's theory that suicide is an acceptable way of escape. Further along in the article, we are given deeper knowledge as to additional risk factors for men and suicide. These include:

  • relationship status: single, divorced, or widowed

  • being a white male

  • lack of social support

  • unemployment or loss of a job

  • drop in socioeconomic status

  • access to firearms

  • having a psychiatric diagnosis (90% of all people who have died by suicide had a diagnosable mental health condition)

  • having a chronic disease, such as, diabetes, HIV, migraines, and cancer

  • substance abuse

  • previous suicide attempt(s)

  • perfectionism

  • past trauma


If you've read my past post, Suicide Prevention Month: The Youth, you know that I volunteer with Letters Against Depression and send hand-written letters to people across the globe who struggle and are hurting. On the volunteer portal, I read a request for a letter from a man we'll call "Darian". He writes:


"I'm going to start with the journey:

Depression is a funny thing. I find myself more often than not helping others while I fall into a pit of despair. I've been like this since I was young. Lots of minor heartbreak and learning as a child. I thought that was all over when I got back from Iraq. The worst spiral and where I am today is the result of the past 5+ years. I was engaged to a woman who's father died and she became physically abusive. She is a therapist and had locked me in a mental cage long before she started hitting me. I finally stood up to her not because of her abuse or her cheating but because her drinking led her to kick our dog. Its sad but if she had not kicked our dog I would still be in that abusive relationship. Her dad had died of cancer and before she kicked our dog I had hidden my own cancer diagnosis. I didn't want to upset her and dealt with even my biopsy alone and not letting her see my suffering. The police had documented her drunken calls, false reports and had even arrested her because of her abusive behavior. After she kicked our dog, I filed for a restraining order. The judge told me there was no way my ex could have hurt me enough to be afraid. Even with the Police Forensics and a Police Captain supporting my side of the story the judge was dismissive and I was made homeless. I lost my job and most of my friends because she said she was the victim. Eventually the truth came out but it was too late. My ex still has possession of my home (my down-payment and mortgage) while I fight to get it back. Covid has delayed our hearings after she had already gotten it pushed out for over 2 years. I worked for a homeless non profit as a way to have housing in that time. Soon after I started working there I had to put down the dog my ex kicked due to complications from the injuries. I found the nonprofit was embezzling funds and defrauding the city contractors to keep people homeless. I reported it and was terminated in retaliation. The state decided they illegally withheld pay in lieu of rent. Ironically because of that decision the courts allowed them to kick me and my coworkers to the street as non tenants. I almost became homeless again. Since then I've helped dozens of people improve their lives while watching myself struggle to survive and recover. I'm a month away from 5 years having left my ex. I know I've made a long climb back to normalcy, but it feels futile with an ever impending death sentence of the cancer that just can't be beat. I realize everyday I wake up is a miracle, but then it also feels like a prison. Another day to have to exist, to feed the monotony."


Without taking away from "Darian"'s humanity, I want to clearly point out that his struggles absolutely line up with the information we've been presented with. He is struggling in his relationship status and trauma associated with that, his socioeconomic status has changed, he is struggling with homelessness, and he has war trauma from being deployed to Iraq. These circumstances should propel us forward into compassion for him and his emotional pain. Somewhere in our culture, we have bought the lie that men or male aligned people aren't supposed to openly show emotions or their inward struggles. We falsely believe that men should toughen up, push through, and ignore signs of mental distress. This will only perpetuate the cycle of suicide and loss of precious lives.


To continue the story surrounding my dad and his risk for suicide, I will briefly describe the pain I've seen in him without divulging too many details. During our years of silence, I know that he was dealing with legal issues, because I was part of them. He was struggling with undiagnosed alcoholism, financial stressors, and relationship issues with many people in his life. My grandmother, his mother, passed in 2013 as a result of a suspected* drug overdose. She was diagnosed with mental health conditions before her death, thus leaving him extremely vulnerable to the same. He was and is absolutely at risk for suicide. I don't explain this to out his struggles on the internet. I say this out of compassion in hopes of helping others feel less alone.

*As a side note, I haven't seen my grandmother's autopsy result to confirm her cause of death. That has been a thought-through decision to protect my heart in the realm of grief. The suspicion of drug overdose is the information that was shared by my family, not by professionals.

 

Knowing what we know now, how can we move toward a space of understanding and compassion for our men? Here are my warm examples of advice for growth:

  • Pay attention to the pain they hold inside. If you suspect that they are struggling, talk to them without prying. Suggest that they speak to a professional.

  • Ask them how you can help. They might not have an answer, but it will get them thinking about what they need emotionally.

  • Tell them you're proud of them and their hard work and sacrifices. Sometimes the simplest statements mean the most.

  • Learn about something they love (sports, cooking, biking, etc.), and do it with them.

  • Take something off of their plate if you can. Offer to help with a chore or responsibility that primarily falls on them.

  • Reassure them that their feelings are valid. I know, this one seems obvious, but people need to hear it.


We have learned so much in this series, and I'm so blessed and honored that you've chosen to invest in our people with me. You are healing others by educating and healing yourself, and we are providing hope to a hurting world. Our truest form of work is extending hope.


*If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services offer 24/7 support, are free, and confidential.*

 

Sources:

[1] “Why Are Middle-Aged White Men More Likely to Die by Suicide?” SSM Health, www.ssmhealth.com/blogs/ssm-health-matters/october-2019/middle-aged-men-more-likely-to-die-by-suicide. Accessed 30 Sept. 2021.

[2] “CDC Works 24/7.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 Sept. 2021, www.cdc.gov.

[3] “NIMH » Suicide.” National Institute of Mental Health, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide. Accessed 30 Sept. 2021.

[4] “Suicide Statistics and Facts –.” SAVE, save.org/about-suicide/suicide-facts. Accessed 30 Sept. 2021.

[5] “Men And Suicide: What You Should Know.” Henry Ford LiveWell, www.henryford.com/blog/2020/01/men-and-suicide-what-you-should-know. Accessed 30 Sept. 2021.

[6] Crutchfield, Ali. “Suicide Prevention Month: The Youth.” TheAliWaytoHealing, 21 Sept. 2021, www.thealiwaytohealing.com/post/suicide-prevention-month-the-youth.

[7] Letters Against Depression. “Letters Against Depression.” Letters Against Depression, www.lettersagainst.org. Accessed 30 Sept. 2021.

[8] “Home.” National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Accessed 10 Sept. 2021.

[9] “Crisis Text Line | Text HOME to 741741 Free, 24/7 Crisis Counseling.” Crisis Text Line, Wide Eye, 2013, www.crisistextline.org.


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