One in four contacts to Samaritans from men talked about loneliness or isolation, according to the latest snapshot survey of a selection of branches in the UK and ROI.
Almost as many contacts from men included conversations about relationship difficulties. In 43% per cent of contacts discussing financial difficulties, men also discussed feelings of loneliness or isolation.
Suicidal feelings were expressed in one in five contacts from men, with 20 per cent of these also talking about previous suicide attempts.
The likelihood of social disconnection among men in mid-life – particularly if unemployed and without a partner – and the fundamental role this plays in their high risk of suicide, must be recognised and addressed in suicide prevention efforts.
A lack of supportive relationships or belief there are no people you can turn to are a well-established risk factors for suicide. A growing evidence base shows that positive social connections, such as marriage or partner, family, ties to friends and neighbours, workplace ties, make people happy and healthy. Lack of social relationships constitutes a major risk factor for ill-health and mortality, comparable to cigarette smoking, blood pressure, blood lipids, obesity and physical inactivity.
The results of the survey echo the findings of Samaritans’ report Men, Suicide and Society, published a year ago. Having a job and providing for the family continue to be an important part of masculine identity and pride. Being unemployed or having financial difficulties can have a knock-on effect on men’s relationships. It can contribute to relationship breakdown. Men in mid-life are often primarily dependent on female partners for emotional support, so relationship breakdown can be particular difficult for them. Divorce or separation results in higher suicide risk for men than for women.
Men today are also more likely to be living alone. Men tend to have fewer peer relationships than women, and these relationships tend not to be based on ‘talking about feelings’. When men are out of work they lose one of their main sources of social ties and relationship. Not having any money also means men may not be able to afford to socialise. The view that ‘real’ men are powerful and invulnerable may make it difficult for men to show those around them they are struggling to cope.
Catherine Johnstone, Chief Executive of Samaritans said: “A year on from the launch of Samaritans’ We’re in Your Corner campaign, this survey again highlights the role of men’s feeling of loneliness and lack of social support in their increased risk of suicide. We have to stop putting on pressure on men to live up to societal views of what it is to be a ‘real man’. Samaritans is here round the clock every single day of the year and we will listen to whatever people need to say.”