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Suicide Prevention: An Important Part of Men’s Health Month

John Giampaolo — June 6, 2019 — 4 min read
June is a great time to honor the men in our lives. It’s Men’s Health Month. This gives us a perfect chance to talk with men about ways to enjoy longer, healthier and more fulfilled lives. That includes having frank conversations about suicide prevention.  
 
It is a very real fact that suicide rates are higher in men than in women — more than 3.5 times higher, according to some sources. While there are many reasons for this, one of the biggest is society’s view of what it means to “be a man.”
 
As dads, husbands, sons and brothers, men often feel pressured to “have it all together,” “be self-assured” and “strong” — even when they go through traumatic events. (June is also PTSD Awareness Month.) Our culture is not used to men expressing emotions like depression or anxiety. As a result, many men do not feel comfortable telling people when they feel fearful, stressed, or unable to cope. Even though these feelings are perfectly normal, lots of men are afraid they’ll be considered weak or “less of a man” if they admit to having them.  
 
That is why, for some men, the greatest gift we can give this month is to help remove the burden and the stigma around suicide. We can do that by listening, understanding and being ready to help.  

How can we help?

Fortunately, there’s a lot we can do to support men who might be thinking about suicide. It starts by building a solid bond with them. The bonds created by genuine friendships can help create a sense of safety, letting men know it’s OK to talk about how they’re feeling and what’s bothering them.
 
Knowing a person well also makes it a little easier to spot sudden changes in their normal actions, which might signal they are thinking about suicide. Especially in men, however, the warning signs can be hidden and hard to spot. Here are some things to be aware of:
  • An increase in anger or irritation
  • Withdrawal from normal interests
  • More risk-taking activities — like an increase in alcohol or other substance use  
  • Depression followed all at once by happiness (This could be a sign they have decided upon suicide and feel relief.)
Men may also talk about feeling physical symptoms — like headache or back pain, for example — when anxious or depressed. The difficult thing about these warning signs is that they’re fairly common, even among people not thinking about taking their lives. However, it’s worth paying close attention when these changes happen suddenly during a difficult time in a person’s life — such as a painful personal loss, an unwelcome change or a traumatic event.   
 
Keep in mind that trauma, especially, is very individual. Let’s say two people are in the same car accident, for example. It’s possible for one person to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while the other does not. That’s why it’s so important to listen to a person’s cares and concerns without any judgment, only empathy. Even the words we use can have a big impact.   
 
For instance: Instead of asking, “You’re not thinking of taking your life, are you?”, which subtly implies that we frown on their thoughts, a better way to show you care is to ask the straightforward question, “Are you thinking about taking your life?” Using non-judgmental language like this may offer a sense of safety and encourage the person to talk openly.
 
The first step in helping men is to be alert for warning signs. The second step is to listen and talk without judgment. The third step is to be aware of professional community support resources they can turn to for help.

For example:
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available for anyone nationwide. Whether they’re in crisis or they just need to talk, they can call 800-273-TALK (8255) or chat online.
  • Local chapters of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) can offer a good gateway for finding local support resources — even for those who don’t have a mental illness. Nationally, people in crisis can call the NAMI helpline at 1-800-950-6264 or text NAMI to 741741.
  • Local faith-based programs can also connect people with appropriate help. (In Union County, for example, NAMI has partnered with some faith-based programs.)
  • The Cardinal Innovations crisis line is answered by trained professionals within 30 seconds any time of day or night. Call 1-800-939-5911 for a safe environment to talk, get referrals or get immediate help.                             
As families and friends, we can all help to reduce the stigma around suicide. We can listen to our dads, husbands, sons and brothers and relate with what it means to be human. After all, men are not without emotion. Let’s use Men’s Health Month, Father’s Day and PTSD Awareness Month as an opportunity to create deeper bonds with the men in our lives. During June — and throughout the year — let’s encourage them to speak as openly about their fears, worries and concerns as they do about their joys and triumphs.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, there is help.


About the Author
John Giampaolo, Community Engagement Specialist for Cardinal Innovations Healthcare
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