While there’s plenty of good advice in the report, which includes sources of support for men suffering from stress and depression – pp 32,33 – we were disappointed (but not remotely surprised) at the lens through which male suicide is viewed, mental health issues, while not considering some of the major issues known to be driving large numbers of men to suicide, including:
- denial of fathers’ access to children following family breakdowns
- denial of support to male victims of domestic violence
It’s the feminist lens through which the male suicide charity CALM critiques male suicide – hardly surprisingly, given that the organization’s Chief Executive, Jane Powell, described herself to me as a ‘fervent feminist’. I asked her what support her organization could give to suicidal men facing either of these two problems, and she stared sullenly at the table, saying nothing.
Unlike women, men are disinclined to talk about problems for which they know there is no solution. In part this is due to stoicism – a fine quality which keeps huge numbers of men from committing suicide, and is accordingly decried by feminists as an example of ‘toxic masculinity’ – and in part because men may have previously learned they won’t receive the sympathy that women can reliably expect, from friends and family members in particular.
My article for the International Business Times on reactive depression – the form brought on by distressing life events – as a major driver of male suicide is here.
To illustrate the point about the report’s ideological bias, let’s look at a section starting on page 6, ‘What causes stress?’ A sub-section at the bottom of the page is titled, ‘Why understanding stress matters’, and its content is this:
Stress causes mental health breakdowns.
One in four of us will have a mental health problem this year. They’re responsible for half of all long-term absences from work. Unchecked mental health problems can be very serious indeed.
About three quarters of the people treated for depression are women but about three quarters of the people who commit suicide are men.
Since depression is a major cause of suicide, something doesn’t add up. Is it us?
‘Is it us?’ Full marks there for victim blaming. A classic conflation between suffering from depression, and propensity to seek help for it, despite what’s been known for many years about gender-typical differences in this area. No recognition that more men than women commit suicide due to unbearable reactive depression brought on by life events over which they’re powerless e.g. denial of access to children following family breakdowns, denial of support as victims of domestic violence…
The sub-section ends:
Talking about depression is not a sign of weakness. It takes balls.
On page 7 we find a section on ‘Endings’:
Don’t under-estimate the impact of grief on your well-being. The death of a loved one brings stages of grief for which there are recognized treatments such as grief counselling.
But it’s not just deaths. Other life changes which shock and to which we need to adjust include moving house, splitting up with a partner, changing job, or children leaving the family home.
Moving house, splitting up with a partner, and changing job, are among the ‘shocks’ deemed worthy of merit in this report, unlike denial of access to children, or denial of support to male victims of domestic violence. In my lifetime I’ve experienced maybe 15-20 examples of the first three ‘shocks’, and wouldn’t consider them collectively as being remotely comparable with one example of the last two ‘shocks’, which I haven’t experienced. Men don’t commit suicide because they’ve had a stressful house move, do they?
We know from an American study that if the number of DV-related suicides are added to DV-related homicides, more men than women die as a result of DV. How can this fact not be worthy of merit in such a report? Because to mention such a thing would point a finger of blame at the state, and Men’s Health Forum won’t criticise its prime paymasters, even indirectly.
Finally, none of the four case studies of individuals (pp 26-29) concern reactive depression.