Suicide amongst young men: Steps in the right direction

As suicide rates amongst young men remain consistently high, Laura McHugh looks at steps that are being taken to tackle the crisis.[br]The last place you would expect great ideas to be born is in the local pub, especially after a few pints. However, two Australian friends defied the odds and Movember began in 2003 with 30 participants willing to grow moustaches for the month of November.Twelve years and 485 million euro later, the hairiest month of the year is back with Movember 2015. While Movember is mostly associated with cancer awareness, male mental health is also a core focus of the Movember Foundation.Mental health among men is a particular concern in Ireland. Suicide is the leading cause of death amongst young men in this country. According to the Central Statistics Office, there were 459 registered suicides in Ireland in 2014 and 80 per cent of those were male. Suicide by young people in Ireland was fourth highest in the EU for that year.There are many difficulties that can threaten the mental health of young people. According to the youth mental health organisation Jigsaw, the most common issue that impacts young people is anxiety. However, isolation, stress, family problems and low self-esteem were all issues that young people reported as impacting on their mental health.The ‘My World Survey’ of 2012 was conducted through a collaboration of Headstrong and UCD Youth Mental Health Lab’s Dr Amanda Fitzgerald and Dr Barbara Dooley. This study on youth mental health in Ireland found some striking results. Of the 14,000 young people (aged 12-25) that participated in the study, 35 per cent had levels of depression which were of concern. 51 per cent of youths aged between 17 and 25 reported suicidal thoughts, 7 per cent of those had attempted suicide. With these figures in mind it is easy to understand how Ireland has come to rank so high in youth suicide rates in the EU.While women are more likely to have depression, men are far more likely to commit suicide. While not the only reason, higher levels of suicide in males is often related to men being less likely than women to seek help when it comes to mental health concerns.
Coping with mental health issues such as depression alone can often escalate an already serious condition”
It is often found that men will not speak to their social network or to professionals if they are experiencing mental health concerns. This lack of expression can often be due to protecting social ideals of masculinity; men do not want to seem weak for asking for help. Denial that there is actually an issue is also detrimental to seeking help for mental health concerns. The attitudes of the public towards mental health can also be a further barrier to males seeking help for the issues affecting them.Coping with mental health issues such as depression alone can often escalate an already serious condition. Rather than seeking help, youths who decide to deal with depression alone are more likely to endorse maladaptive coping strategies such as alcohol and drug use. Alcohol often leads to impulsive behaviour, so it is not surprising that suicide completers are often found to have high blood alcohol levels. The lack of social support that also comes with trying to deal with depression alone is also detrimental as it can increase levels of depression and make bad situations even worse. Therefore, men who die by suicide often do so without ever having attempted to seek help for their difficulties.On a national level, Samaritans are very aware of the increased risk of suicide amongst young men. As a result, they focus much of their outreach at targeting young males. The GAA and Samaritans became a partnership in 2014 in order to reach out to men across the 32 counties.  The two organisations are working to reduce the stigma around mental health and encourage young men to contact them not only if they feel suicidal but about anything from depression to isolation and family issues.Earlier in 2015 the government also launched ‘Connecting for Life’, a national strategy to reduce suicide in Ireland. The aims of this strategy include improving on understandings of suicide, making services more accessible to vulnerable groups and encouraging research in the area of suicide. This strategy has a strong evidence base behind it including analysis of CSO figures, reviews of research and personal accounts from members of the public affected by suicide. Young people are a particular focus for this strategy as well as those with mental health difficulties, the LGBT community and asylum seekers amongst other vulnerable groups. In relation to the Connecting for Life strategy, Samaritans have stated “we believe the strategy has the potential to address the social and economic factors which impact on suicidal behaviour if it is implemented.”In UCD, a number of steps have been taken in order to address youth suicide rates. UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU) are running a year long fundraising campaign in order to raise funds for Youth Suicide Prevention Ireland (YSPI). SU Welfare Officer Clare O’Connor stated, “Our goal is to raise over €100,000 for this charity which depends entirely on public donations in the absence of support from the state.” During the year long campaign YSPI representatives will continue to come to the university and give talks on suicide and self-harm.UCD have also put forward a policy in the last year which outlines the recommended steps for staff in order to respond to students who are in distress due to mental health difficulties. Within the University there is also the opportunity for staff to receive Safe Talk and ASIST training. Suicide prevention is the core focus of these two workshops. In these workshops trainees are taught to identify individuals who are at risk from suicide and trained to keep these people safe until further help can be obtained.Student advisors, the chaplaincy service and the counselling service are also available in the University if students wish to talk about any issues that are troubling them. In relation to UCD counselling service, O’Connor stated that she would “like to see the budget for counselling services here in UCD increased by University management.”It appears that in light of recent figures on suicide in Ireland, local and national authorities have stepped up in order to combat the issue. While we have a long road ahead, there have been some steps in the right direction in relation to suicide, particularly amongst young men in this country.