Captain of our Titanic — A deeper look at what is killing men

Photography: Dean Whitling
According to the 2011–2013 figures for Australia, the predominant cause of death for men aged 15–44 is suicide, followed by accidental poisoning and transport accidents. Then, after the age of 45, coronary heart disease becomes the predominant cause of death[1].

There is a potentially disturbing sociological story to tell from these figures.

First let’s start with the backdrop of men being the so-called, dominant sex — the ones with seemingly more control in many areas of life and the ones who have traditionally dominated local, national and global leadership roles.

Then let’s consider the fact that the top three causes of death for men aged 15–44 are suicide, ‘accidental poisoning’ (drug and alcohol overdose), or through ‘vehicle accidents’.

We only need to imagine the kind of inner turmoil, grief or emotional suppression that leads to someone feeling like suicide is a less painful option than living. Then add accidental poisoning and transport accidents to the equation and the top three causes of death for this age group have one thing in common — men are essentially doing it to themselves, either on purpose or through sheer neglect.

This age is a time of life often referred to as the ‘prime’, yet even in their ‘prime’ there is something about that life that too many men want to erase, numb with drug or alcohol or drive or ride in a way that is reckless.

However, the picture changes once men reach the age of 45, and not for the better. For men over the age of 45, coronary heart disease (heart attack) takes over as the number 1 killer (14.8%, which is close to double any other cause of death[2]). So after men move through the ‘prime’ of their lives, they no longer try to kill themselves — but their heart gives out.

Is there a correlation between the two?

If we take a moment to appreciate the symbolism of the heart, the story becomes more significant. The heart is seen as the centre of sensitivity on a feeling level, and energetically as a point of connection to oneself.
So, as men get older, fewer men take their own lives, but more men die literally of a broken heart.

The symbolism of this is significant. First, men in their younger years are feeling so overwhelmed that many opt to take their own life, and as they get older, their centre of connection (their heart) gives out. This means that even though the mechanism of death has changed, it is possible that the root cause of death for men has not — and that is the fact that they are disconnecting from themselves, and from life.

It is beyond ironic that after centuries of men being local and global leaders, that the resulting society has left men in charge of so many others but out of touch with themselves and out of control of their own lives.

There is little doubt that society needs to get engaged in a more real and honest conversation about the male stereotype we have created.

Could it be that the warrior male, the sporty male, the intelligent male, the hipster male, the new age male, the father male, the arty male and all the other variants that we think make us the man we are, are failing on one single and critical front?
They are failing to deliver the kind of life that doesn’t make men want to kill themselves, or results in their dying with a broken heart caused from a life of disconnection.

What is clear though is that it is a conversation that needs to start, and it is only men that can start and sustain it.

Much is said about the importance of leadership and being the boss or team captain. But could it be we have missed the most important leadership role, and that is the captaincy of our own lives and bodies?

Yes, we are captain of our lives, but for too many men that vessel is called the Titanic