There's a crisis going on, right here and right now. Our men, and even our boys, are suffering - suffering, and in all too many cases, dying.
In 2016 in Australia there were 2,866 deaths by suicide - that's more than seven people every day. And fully three quarters, 2,151, were males. Middle- and older-aged men are suiciding at rates 4-6 times greater than females. And the numbers of male suicides have risen over the past decade. (This is not to minimise the deaths by suicide of women. Any such death is a shattering tragedy and one is too many.)
Among people aged 25-44 and 15-24, suicide is in fact the leading underlying cause of death. Since the 1970s suicide rates have increased in young males and have eclipsed motor vehicle accidents as the dominant cause of death in this group. Suicide rates among young Australians are at their highest level in 10 years.
Add to these figures other factors - such as that for every suicide there are as many as 30 attempts; and that these figures don't of course include self-destructive behaviour of other kinds, such as substance abuse and dangerous driving - and the picture looks bleak.
What's causing it? Clearly there are multiple causes for this tragic waste of life and potential, and any analysis that suggests it is the result of a single cause, such as unemployment, the growth in social media, the breakdown of social structures such as organised religion or traditional family structures, is not telling the whole truth. The truth is complex, and that makes it harder to address the problem.
The risk factors are multiple, and as identified by Beyond Blue include previous suicide attempts; a history of substance abuse; a history of mental health conditions such as depression; anxiety, bipolar and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; relationship problems; legal or disciplinary problems; access to harmful means such as medication or weapons; the recent death of a family member or a close friend; ongoing exposure to bullying behaviour such as cyberbullying; losing a friend or family member to suicide, and physical illness or disability - to name just a few.
Fortunately, there are protective factors, too. Beyond Blue's list includes strong, positive relationships with parents and guardians; feeling secure and supported; connections to other non-parental adults; closeness to caring friends; academic achievement; school safety; feeling a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves – community, culture, religion, sports team; neighbourhood safety; awareness of and access to local health services, and overall resilience.
Recently, two mates of mine in the UK, Andrew Lowe and Tim Tucker, launched a podcast with the challenging title of 'Emotional Cripples.' It's a brave and valuable project to talk about mental health issues faced by boys and men, and what can be done about it. It's well worth a listen, and your support. Andrew interviewed me for an upcoming podcast, and as part of that I wrote a little ebook about men's mental health that you can download here.