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It might be good to talk – but what happens when you can’t?

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Published on 10 September 2018

World Suicide Prevention Day
World Suicide Prevention Day

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Here University of Sunderland experts in male psychology, Dr Rebecca Owens and Dr Helen Driscoll, discuss the importance of addressing the suicide risk to men which sees an estimated 84 taking their own lives every week in the UK.


We’re often told that ‘men need to talk more’…and maybe they do.

But what happens when this is more easily said than done?

With an estimated 84 men taking their own lives every week in the UK, the issue is one which is not going to go away.

Despite new figures revealing suicide rates among men has fallen to their lowest in 30 years, men still account for three-quarters of suicides in the UK.

On August 30 this year, there was a revolutionary step forward in psychology with the creation of a Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS).

While this may not sound important to the man – or woman – on the street, it is hoped that the move will go on to play a key role in helping and understanding more about the often unspoken reasons behind male suicides.

And it’s this ‘unspoken’ element which can prove the hardest to tackle when it comes to understanding how men are feeling.

The fact that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 proves that simply urging men to ‘talk more’ about how they are feeling is not a stand-alone resolution. Some experts argue we need a more gendered approach to prevention.

Perhaps some men do not always need to talk in order to cope, and that understanding of problems rather than feeling-based conversations may be more important when it comes to addressing the risks.

Dr Rebecca Owens, lecturer in psychology at the University, said: “On the surface, we could say ‘just talk – tell me what is bothering you’. What if they don’t know? What if they can’t find the words? What if they don’t recognise these feelings?

“This is partly due to the entrenched notion that men do not ask for help – they do not show emotion or weakness, they must remain strong and dominant at all times. This goes beyond the superficial layer of ‘just talk more…get in touch with your feelings’.

“An indicator of depression generally is withdrawal, but in men depression may look quite different.

“For example, men often ‘act out’ more when facing crises, perhaps as a result of a relationship breakdown or the loss of status, such as losing a job. They may engage in risky behaviours, for example, they may abuse drugs or alcohol, gamble, drive erratically, and have a very whimsical attitude and behave impulsively.

“Clearly, immediate help is needed to raise awareness of male psychology and mental health – it is not a bad thing to acknowledge there are sex differences in certain areas.

“This means that we can provide the right help and support as needed. One of these suggestions is that men need different forms of therapy than women do, and in some instances male-only therapy is beneficial. For psychologists who are members of the British Psychological Society, it is important that we have now successfully got a Male Psychology Section, so we can better understand issues that affect men and women differently and how to provide appropriate help and support.

“The Psychology of Women and Equalities section has been amazing in doing this for women, and now men will be able to get the same support.”

And it is support which is desperately needed. Three times more men than women take their own lives. Numerous reasons have been cited for this; from conflicts of masculinity: the difficulty of reconciling the new man with old; to hardwired ideas about being the breadwinner and not expressing emotions.

Dr Helen Driscoll, senior lecturer in psychology at the University added: “Some of the big issues facing men include high suicide rates, mental health issues, and domestic abuse.

“There is a lack of awareness of the extent to which these issues affect men, and this means that often men have no one to talk to and no help or support. Lack of awareness also means research and understanding is limited, impairing our ability to tackle these issues.

“The BPS has had a Psychology of Women Section for some years. The development of a Male Psychology Section is crucial to furthering our understanding of male psychology and to addressing issues facing men.”

High profile male suicides which have led to calls for more awareness surrounding the issue in recent years include American singer/songwriter Chris Cornell who died last year aged 52 and DJ and songwriter Avicii who died earlier this year aged just 28.