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Home » News » Local » Is male privilege a myth? Statistics reveal the dark truth about male suicide in Australia

Is male privilege a myth? Statistics reveal the dark truth about male suicide in Australia

Deadly silence: “While many men acknowledge they have a good group of friends and a supportive, loving family, they don’t want to be seen as a burden, nor unable to deal with their own mental health.”

CLAIMS of male privilege should fall on deaf ears after recent data demonstrates a heartbreaking trend among Australian men.

In 2017, the number of deaths from suicide in Australia was more than 3000. 

Of those deaths, three-quarters were men, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The rate of suicide deaths per 100,000 people was 12.7 in 2017, compared to 11.8 in 2016.

The 2017 rate is on par with 2015 as the highest preliminary rate recorded in the past decade.

Queensland recorded the steepest rise, with 804 deaths by suicide in 2017, compared to 674 the year before.

New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory recorded the next most notable increases, but the number was marginally lower in Victoria and South Australia.

Clinical psychologist John Barletta said the ABS had also shed light this year, for the first time, on health conditions people were experiencing at the time of their death by suicide.

“The reality is, men are dying too young from a whole range of things,” Dr Barletta said.

“These include cancers like prostate, testicular, colon, as well as heart disease and work-related deaths.”

Dr Barletta said poor helping-seeking behaviour from men put them at a greater risk of developing poor mental health.

“Women tend to be more adept at seeking help and collaborating and sharing stuff, where as men don’t,” he said. 

“So when men have problems with either their physical, or mental health, they’re more likely to keep it to themselves until it gets to the point where they can’t keep it to themselves any longer.

“The worst of the men is that we miss the signs of distress, or we don’t cope with them in good ways. 

“Men are more closed off to the emotional space, if things happen we want a quick fix; we have this ego and an enormous amount of shame – and to keep this stoic thing going is really tough.”

Michael Jones is a former Brisbane Catholic Education teacher, who now works as a counsellor and mental health educator.

“From working with men I have found that they are starting to make moves towards seeking help, however, there is still a long way to go,” Mr Jones said.

“Men as a general rule have an inherent belief that others have their own problems to deal with and so don’t want to burden friends, family, etc. with whatever problems or concerns they have.

“While many men acknowledge they have a good group of friends and a supportive, loving family, they don’t want to be seen as a burden, nor unable to deal with their own mental health. 

“While this is changing, it’s been that way for decades, so it’s a slow and steady process of continually getting the message out there that it’s not a sign of weakness to seek help.”

Mr Jones said the issue of social isolation was having a large impact on men’s mental health.

“When friendship groups or dynamics change, men are less likely to explore new friendships than women,” he said.

“As a result they become more socially isolated and have less social supports, directly impacting their mental health and their ability cope.

“Additionally, if men lack social supports they can develop a mindset of ‘nobody cares about me, so what’s the point’.

“It comes back to the whole idea of we are more connected than ever before through technology, however, we are also more socially isolated than ever before.”

Data is also demonstrating a spike in the number of suicides and attempted suicides in the construction industry, with the rate of death sitting at two-and-a-half times the national average. 

In 2017, it was estimated that a construction worker commits suicide every second day.

Since 2008, Petrie parishioner John Brady has been the operations manager of MATES in Construction – a suicide prevention and intervention agency working in the Queensland Construction Industry.

“What we know is that last year 3128 people took their lives in Australia. That’s eight per day. Three-quarters of them are men,” Mr Brady said.

“Women attempt suicide more often than men, men use more lethal means.

“So when we have the thought of suicide and we act on it, we normally don’t give ourselves a second chance.

“For every one we lose there are 40-100 attempts and, of those, many never return to work. 

“So you’ve got significant issues.”

The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health estimates the average age of suicide is 20.4 years, representing an average loss of 62 years of life and close to 46 years of productive capacity. 

That equates to $2,788,245 in lost productivity.

“(Men) have been trained for generations not to ask for help,” Mr Brady said. “So what we do in MATES in Construction is go, ‘Let’s not run with a man’s weakness, let’s run with a man’s strength’.

“That is: ‘I might not look after myself very well but, boy, I look after my mates’.

“We teach people what it looks like when one of their mates might be struggling.

“Then to have the conversation about, ‘Mate, I noticed this, that’s not like you, what’s going on?’

“It’s actually about community development, good churches, good football clubs, good families.

“They sometimes describe suicide as death by loneliness.

“You can be in a lovely family, a lovely church, and surrounded by people who love you and still feel alone because they haven’t picked up on what’s going on.”

Painful truth: Suicide is now the biggest killer of men aged between 15 and 44 in Australia, eclipsing both prostate cancer and the road toll.

MATES in Construction operate national training programs to raise awareness about suicide in the workplace.   

“What we try and do is make people aware and alert,” Mr Brady said.

“We train people into the work place who have got the tools to actually help – to know how to have the conversations, know how to ask the right questions, know how to listen empathetically.

“What we’ve found is that in the first five years of the program we were able to drop suicide in the Queensland construction industry by nearly eight per cent, and we’ve continued to work away at that. 

“What we’re finding is that even though the program is simple, it’s working, because people are having conversations with people.

“It’s like we’re lifting the taboo.

“Ten years ago it’d be like ‘Take a cup of concrete and harden up’.

“Even if they don’t get connected to help, the fact that they’ve had (a different) conversation (with work mates) can be lifesaving.”

Mr Brady said the data was also demonstrating that the majority of people who committed suicide did not have a diagnosed mental illness.

“That’s one of the myths in our society,” he said.

“Mental health and mental illness are not the same.

“It’s like physical health and physical illness – if you don’t look after your body, you’re going to get sick.

“If you don’t look after your mental health, then you start to open the door to things like depression.

“Most people who suicide are overwhelmed by life.”

The ABS reported that suicide was now the biggest killer of men aged between 15 and 44 in Australia, eclipsing both prostate cancer and the road toll.

“I did an assist course recently and one of the blokes in there coached a cricket team and one of his 11-year-olds suicided,” Mr Brady said.

“How do you see that coming?”

Mr Brady said there was a common misconception that someone who had decided to commit suicide – known as suicidal ideation – was unable to be stopped. 

“That’s a myth, too – impulsive suicides are really rare,” he said. “Most people plan their suicide a long time out and they let us know. We just need to be alert.

“I had a guy the other day ring me who was really upset.
It’s been about a month since his mate died.

“His mate had rung him on a Thursday night and said, ‘Do you want to go down the pub for a few beers?’ And he said, ‘Mate, it’s a Thursday night, I’ve got to be at work at four o’clock in the morning, let’s get on it on Saturday night’.

“He killed himself that night.

“When (the dead man’s friend) got to the funeral he found out that guy had rung six other mates and asked them the same thing: ‘Will you come down the pub and have a beer with me?’

“Now, not one of them said, ‘Mate, it’s a Thursday night that’s really unusual for you to ring me’.

“Now they’re left with the ‘could have, would have, should have’ grief that follows a suicide and never gets resolved.

“What we’re trying to say is, what if one of those had have been alert enough to say, ‘Mate, Thursday-night drinking – that’s not you – what’s the story here?’

“Then, maybe he might have been alive.”

Mr Brady said a common warning sign that someone was planning on taking their life was the bequeathing of personal belongings.  

“People who are thinking of suicide give away their possessions,” Mr Brady said.

“So when someone gives you their fishing gear you don’t just say, ‘Thanks mate, that’s great, really appreciate it.’

“You actually go, ‘So are you giving up fishing? What’s the story here?’

“It’s about connecting those dots.

“That’s why we say that suicide is everyone’s business, because the people who live with you and work with you are the people who are most likely to pick up that your behaviour is changing.”

The Federal Government has given $36 million to organisations attempting to curtail the number of Australians taking their own lives.

Suicide Prevention Australia and Mental Health First Aid Australia are among 15 groups to have received funding for projects, including research and awareness-raising ventures.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said suicide, which accounted for almost 3000 Australian deaths each year, remained a “national tragedy”.

“One life lost to suicide is one too many,” Mr Hunt said.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au.

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