A little quiz for you:
What do you think is the highest cause of death amongst young men in the UK?
Murder? No, too extreme. Drugs? Hmm, maybe not. Car crashes – everyone knows boys drive like lunatics? No.
Did you guess suicide? Then, sadly, you were wrong. The biggest cause of death amongst young men in the UK is themselves.
I would like to say that I have never met anyone that had tried to kill themselves, but that is not true. Several people in my life have tried. One did die, and his girlfriend found his body in their shared house. I wondered at the time whether he could see all of the sadness and love for him that was shared by those who were still alive and whether, if he could have seen it beforehand, he would have taken a different path.
Although there are many reasons why people attempt to kill themselves with men, especially those entering their ‘adult’ life, I think there are several reasons and having heard the founder of CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably, a charity aimed at men) speak on the subject I think I might be, for some cases at least, correct.
No matter what your feelings or beliefs on the subject, and whether it is correct or not, human societies have since our days as apes, given certain roles to certain parts of society. Generally although not always this has given men the roles of protector, provider of high-value goods, and the stable emotional influence, and there was a set point in a boy’s life where he transferred to this role from that of a child and was mentored in the process.
In our modern society things are much more tricky. There are fights which cannot be won by force or cunning. There are jobs where being strong has no part. There are women who earn more than they do and manage to hold the household together too. (I have a very good example of this one: my husband once received a pay rise from his (quite old-fashioned) boss because he told him that he couldn’t earn less than his wife.) Many people I know say that seeing a grown man cry is one of the saddest things they can think of simply because it is something that ‘shouldn’t happen’.
In amongst all of this, there are fewer jobs generally and men can feel, to put it simply, pointless. Yet I wondered whether my friend could see the sadness left behind. The worry, shock and horror amongst those that knew him.
Very few people actually want to kill themselves. They simply feel that they are worthless. Hopeless. Pointless. They can’t hear the birds singing, or feel the sunshine warming their skin, or see the beauty in the landscapes around them. They just want whatever pain they are in to go away. Meanwhile those left behind wonder why, how, what and when something went wrong, and to bear the survivor guilt of those who don’t understand.
I don’t know whether there is a solution to this problem, but for me there is something I do every day to try to make it better: I tell my friends and family that I love them and need them. What do you do?
Update: 13 March 2014
BBC has this article as a new awareness campaign is launched.