I’m writing this in Men’s Health Week – an area I’ve spent a lot of time reporting on, specifically in the area of what men die of earlier. Some of it was due to genetics, some lifestyle. But the one we seem to talk about the least is deliberate.
In the UK, three times as many men as women commit suicide, and nobody can tell us why. The demographics are significant. When it is addressed, the default stat is to tell us that it is the biggest killer of men under 45. True, but the age group most likely to commit suicide are the 45-59s, grappling with divorces, redundancies and the ever decreasing options of their lives. Their default mood is grumpy not melancholic. Think Victor Meldrew rather than Ian Curtis.
These are not people whose problems are taken seriously, according to Jane Powell, chief executive of Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), a pioneering male mental health charity. ‘It’s much easier to raise money for donkey sanctuaries or Victorian buildings,’ she told me. ‘Getting grants to help suicidal middle-aged men is akin to having a whip-around for estate agents.’
Those who try to understand the phenomenon point to men’s reluctance to discuss emotions. But that’s a cop-out. What little work the DH does on suicide skirts around the issue of gender, and fails to reach out to men. As Powell puts it: ‘No corporate brand aimed at men would get away with it.’
On current figures, 12 men will kill themselves today. That’s 12 avoidable deaths. Isn’t it time we found a way of talking to them rather than burying them?