Save Our Sons

A campaign to help highlight the problem of male suicide in Ireland

If you're feeling troubled, remember that talking to people is a constructive step towards solving problems. It costs nothing to contact the Samaritans..

There is an epidemic of male suicides in Ireland today, and yet the country remains silent. No emergency sessions of the Dáil are being convened, no alarms are being raised, nobody seems to care. In 2011, it was five times the rate of women. Studies from the UK indicate that this gender difference in completed suicide rates was around two to one in the 1970s.

Social conditions for men have changed for the worse in the intervening decades. Men don't feel welcome in our society today, because their issues are treated as second class problems and they generally get no sympathy for these problems.

Further, there is very little support among suicide treatment groups for dealing with the gender specific causes of suicide among men. Crisis points in the lives of men, such as for example divorce or being the recipients of domestic and intimate partner violence have likewise very little support. The focus for the most part has been on counselling men after they reach the point of feeling suicidal, treating the symptoms rather than the cause of the problem. It's a valid and effective approach for men who have been pushed that far, but a better one would be to address the underlying reasons that men find themselves in such extremis.

Pieta House is one such charity, which describes itself as follows:

Pieta House, the centre for the prevention of self-harm or suicide, opened its doors in Lucan in January 2006. Since then, six centres of excellence have followed suit in Ballyfermot, Mungret, Roscrea, Tuam, Bishopstown and most recently Castleisland while we also have an outreach centre in Finglas.

Our founder, Joan Freeman, was a practicing psychologist. She closed down her counselling business almost a decade ago to dedicate her time to helping people who were suicidal. After three years of research, she opened up Pieta House in Lucan, County Dublin. It quickly became a respected and recognised service for those who were in suicidal distress.

And yet nowhere in any of its research are the pressures put on men by say divorce mentioned. Indeed the overwhelming majority of the images on their main site are of women. While we do support and appreciate the efforts being mabe by Pieta House, they need further focus on understanding the real underlying causes of sucide.

Likewise the official HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention makes no mention of these issues. The specifics as to why divorce in particular place huge stresses on men are clear.

This will continue to be a problem as divorces skyrocket - in 2011 they stood at 87,770. In fact in other countries, although little to no research on these connections has been completed in Ireland, a strong correlation between high male suicide rates and divorce has been found. Given that over 22,000 men completed suicide in the US in that year, we can conclude the following:

For women marital status, married, single, separated or divorced, made no statistical difference in suicide rates. Divorced and separated men are twice as likely to commit suicide as other men.

CONCLUSIONS: Marital status, especially divorce, has strong net effect on mortality from suicide, but only among men. The study showed that in epidemiological research on suicide, more accurate results would be obtained if samples are stratified on the basis of key demographic or social characteristics. The study further observed that failure to control for relevant socioeconomic variables or combining men and women in the same models could produce misleading results.

Even outside of marriage, domestic violence against men, which has received very little attention from society or the government despite a mountain of evidence which indicates that DV and IPV rates are equally distributed between the sexes, almost certainly plays a part in high male suicide rates.

“close correlation between domestic violence and suicide has been established based on studies in the United States, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Peru, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Suicide is 12 times as likely to have been attempted by a woman who has been abused than by one who has not.”

Of course, that report as most reports do focused solely on women, but as we know for a fact that gender symmetry in intimate partner violence exists, we can also confidently state that it is a factor in high male suicide rates. Perhaps even more so as men have neither the social sympathy nor the immense network of support groups and shelters that women have.

Further research from the NOSP indictes the sense of despair and lack of control that men in Ireland feel they have over their lives.

The highest level of agreement (73.8%) was found for the statement regarding the disinterest of public office in the problems of the average man. About 60% of the men agreed that “the lot of the average man is getting worse” and that nowadays we must “live for today and let tomorrow take care of itself”.

A further series of questions investigated lifetime experience of thoughts relating to death and suicide
(Figure 7). Almost 40% (129, 37.7%) indicated that they had at some point felt that life was not worth living while more than one in four had at some point wished that they were dead (95, 27.7%) and a similar proportion had thought of taking their life although not necessarily with any intent (97, 28.2%).

One in nine (39, 11.4%) had seriously considered suicide at some point while 13 (3.8%) indicated that their thoughts included a plan of how they would carry out their suicide. Twenty-five men (7.4%) had at some time told someone that they were going to die by suicide or that they might do it.

Almost half of the men (162, 47.0%) experienced at least one form of suicidal ideation, although the most common positive response was to the question ‘Have you ever felt life was not worth living?’ (37.7%).

More than one in four (27%) of the men agreed both that they “have little control over the things that happen to them” and that “there is really no way that they can solve some of the problems they have”. Almost 40% agreed that they sometimes feel that they are “being pushed around in life” while half agreed that they “have often felt helpless in dealing with the problems in life”.

Then we have this informative piece from the Irish Independent a year and a half ago:

If you were new to the troubling subject of suicide in contemporary Ireland, then the recent Prime Time programme on the issue would not have helped you to a greater understanding.

In the usual Prime Time format, a short film by Eithne O'Brien was then followed in the studio by a discussion anchored by Keelin Shanley.

What these two well-educated young women didn't raise, either in the film or in the studio, was that eight out of 10 suicides in this Republic this year, last year and next year will be male.

In the film the words "people" and "youth" were used to describe those who had died from suicide. Although technically correct, as both men and women die by suicide, every year the dominant fact of Ireland's suicide death toll is that it is overwhelmingly male.

Any suicide, whether it is male or female, young or old, is a tragedy, but suicide on this island is mainly a killer of men, usually young men.

Like war, it is sexist and ageist. Young men die in war and young men are the main victims of suicide on this island every year.

Every year we lose to suicide the equivalent of our deployment to Chad. This is not a new development. It has been happening for decades.

In 1998 the late Professor Kelleher, a psychiatrist, was tasked by the Irish Government to produce a report on the issue of suicide.He noted in his landmark report that he was irked by the constraints of his discipline. He noted that something sociological was happening to our young men -- and he was a medic.

In the Prime Time studio discussion with Noel Smyth of the charity 3Ts (Turning the Tide of Suicide) and Paula Addison, widowed by suicide, it was the latter who mentioned that the issue should be focused on men.

...

"We mustn't mention that suicide is mainly a killer of men!" That, of course, didn't happen. To discuss suicide in this Republic sensibly would require one to focus on the needs and pain of men. Some of those short-lived young men may have been victims of female power, especially in terms of access to children.

Had eight out of 10 suicides in this Republic for the last 20 years been female, would Prime Time's treatment of the subject have been far more informative?

Towards the end of the Prime Time film, the alarming figures for deliberate self-harm (DSH) were brought into the mix. DSH is appalling and is clearly a cry for help. However, lacerating the lower arms is not a suicide attempt.

If you throw all these in together then you get nice, comforting gender symmetry.

...

The next up was Dr Ella Arnesman of the National Suicide Research Foundation Ireland (NSRF). Her presentation, though excellent and well-researched, indicated the muddled thinking of the State on this subject. The figures for DSH were thrown in with the suicide figures.

The disparity between the Scottish approach and Irish approach could not have been more stark. Scotland has recognised that suicide is a gender issue and has been very straight about that.

The Irish public information campaign on suicide prevention has been about as focused as putting up posters advertising cervical cancer screening in men's toilets.

After the conference I asked Dr Arnesman if, for example, the NSRF had looked at being an unmarried father with difficulties over access to a child as a possible issue in suicide among young males. I had come across this factor time and again when I was researching my book.

One young man in particular, I recalled, had taken his own life on his child's birthday. The child's mother had not allowed him to see his daughter since she was an infant.

Dr Arnesman said that the foundation had not considered this as a factor. That was January 2009. I hope they have looked at this issue since then. Again, no one in the NSRF sat down to deliberately exclude this subject. It just doesn't come into the collective consciousness of the organisation.

We call for the setup of a government task force to examine and address the spiralling rates of male suicide in Ireland, conduct research and support legislation to tackle the underlying causes of this epidemic. The time has come for a dedicated focus on the problems of men. Please sign our petition to the NOSP here.

Our SOS campaign is going around the streets of Ireland attempting to raise awareness of the damaging nature of Irish society which has left men without a real identity, and hopefully helping people to recognise that many of these troubled voices aren't being heard. We would like to thank our supporters and in particular Floral Scents for their help and encouragment.

Posters for mens rights issues can be found here and here. Please check with your local authority to make sure you aren't infinging on any regulations if you're placing posters in public places, MHRI takes no responsibility for littering or other legal issues. Please photograph your posters and friends and send them to info@menshumanrightsireland.org.

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