Tackling male suicide in the UK

Male suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. More men take their own lives than die from other widespread problems such as road accidents, heart disease and cancer in the UK. Additionally, 70% of all suicides in the UK are from men and 2 out of 5 men have contemplated taking their own life. It’s clear to see how big of an issue male suicide is in British society and several organizations have come forward to try and tackle this social problem.

One of them is Lancashire Mind, a mental health charity, which aims to achieve a vision of mental wellbeing for all. Amongst their many programmes, is one specifically targeted at men: the Facing Up project.

Paul Smalley is the mind behind the Facing Up project and he says he came up with the idea of creating a male-specific project after finding out that only 30% of men accessed psychological therapy: “There’s something wrong, I guess, in traditional services because if you go back to the percentage of male suicides being 70%, you can see there doesn’t seem to be much support available.” Hence, Facing Up was created with the aim of encouraging men to reach out and get support for their mental health.

In terms of the work they do, Facing Up offers peer support groups, workshops and working alongside side national mental health campaign ‘Time to Change’.

“In peer support groups, men can come along and just get stuff off their chest, they can talk about football, cars, etc. Instead of going home and having a few beers, they can come along to this group, talk to the lads about footie and then get it off their chest whatever is playing on their mind, whether it be something that’s going on in their professional life or even their love life”, Paul says.

In their workshop programme, Paul and volunteers go along into work places or even pubs and do 20-minute workshops around mental wellbeing and resilience and stress awareness. Finally, in their programme alongside mental health campaign ‘Time to Change’, him and his team try to get rid of the discrimination and stigma surrounding mental health, which Paul has admitted is the biggest challenge when tackling mental health nowadays.

This project has been running for the past five years, with the help of funding from the National Lottery, and the response to it has been extraordinary. Paul and his team have engaged with more than four thousand men just by doing talks at conferences and work places — he thinks this positive impact is much to do with the fact that the project is run by local men: “I think men definitely have an affinity with that and they seem to respond to it better — the feedback we’ve received has been fantastic. Having local men talk about their feelings provides other men with a good role model.”

When asked why he thinks male suicide is such a taboo in British society, Paul says it’s because men don’t want to talk about it out of fear they might be perceived as weak and, in turn, ruin men’s typical ‘macho’ stereotype. So, is this one of the challenges his project faces when trying to tackle male suicide?

“Most certainly. Stigma and discrimination are definitely something we need to get rid of and we will someday. Discrimination might show up in the workplace, for instance, when a male worker may complain to their boss over the stress of their job and the boss might then say that they can’t handle their job. Working alongside the ‘Time to Change’, campaign, we try to train employers to be a little more aware of their staff’s wellbeing. And then what we’re trying to get rid of as well is the whole stigma surrounding mental health — the whole idea that some men have that ‘you’re weak if you talk about your feelings.”

Besides suicide reduction, another of Facing Up’s goals is for men to start taking care of their minds as they would with their bodies. There remains quite a bit of misunderstanding surrounding mental health, in the sense that many people think it doesn’t hold as much importance as physical health — Facing Up wants to get rid of this myth!

“One of our main goals is for men to look after their minds as they would with their bodies. So, for example, they might go to the gym to get in shape but they might be working too hard at their job. We want to raise awareness around the fact that physical health isn’t more important than mental health — they both hold the same importance and both should be looked at the same way!”

And last but not least, Facing Up simply aims to raise awareness to men that it’s ok to speak about their feelings.

“As soon as they start feeling a bit low, if they want to talk about their feelings we’re just hoping Facing Up can inspire them to realise that it’s ok to just get it out. As soon as men start doing that, we can hopefully prevent suicides and prevent ill mental health.”

For men who are finding themselves struggling with their mental health, Paul offers one last piece of advice: “Just speak out, regardless of who to. You might not want to speak to friends and family because of the stigma that still exists but you can still do it anonymously through the Samaritans, for example. And then there are things like peer support groups, like we offer. And there are certainly signs for people to look out for in their loved ones as well: if they’re losing or putting weight on, being a bit withdrawn, don’t be afraid to just ask how they are. It really is just showing that you care that goes a long way!”