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Crisis in Masculine Identity Increases Suicide Risk Amongst Middle Aged Men

Posted on the 20 September 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Rising numbers of middle-aged men are committing suicide. Photo Credit: Flickr Rising numbers of middle-aged men are committing suicide. Photo Credit: Flickr

The background

A major new report has declared that a crisis in masculine identity is leading to an increased risk of suicide amongst middle-aged men. The report, commissioned by suicide prevention charity Samaritans and compiled by a panel of psychologists, economists and social scientists, found that men aged between 35 and 55 are more than four times as likely to take their own lives as women of the same age.

Is the future bleak for men? Freaked-out Spectator readers think so.

Male identity crisis

Rapid social change and its effect on male identity have been named as the prime factors contributing to this increased suicide risk. The Telegraph noted the report’s findings that: “Men currently in their midyears are the ‘buffer’ generation – caught between their traditional silent, strong and austere fathers, who went to work and provided for their families, and the more progressive, open and individualistic generation of their sons. They do not know which of these two very different ways of life and masculine culture they should follow.” The report found that the risk was higher amongst men from poorer backgrounds. The University of Edinburgh’s Dr Amy Chandler, an expert on gender and self-injury, told The Huffington Post: “The masculinity working class men may feel they need to live up to is more rigid, narrow and confining. Further, disadvantaged men may lack the resources to change this in the face of economic hardship, lack of skills, family breakdown and deeply entrenched views of what it is to be a man.”

Changing workplace

Professor Stephen Platt, report author and health policy researcher at the University of Edinburgh told Sky News that the changing labor market was also a contributing factor: “The decline of heavy industry and manufacturing jobs has left a lot of men in a position where they don’t feel the jobs on offer – particularly service jobs – are ones they feel comfortable with. They feel there is a set of expectations about how to behave. And the role of women in the workplace is very different in those service industries compared to the old manufacturing jobs.” The Telegraph also observed the report’s findings on work-related anxieties in an unstable economy: “the pressure to live up to a ‘gold standard’ of masculinity – involving providing for the family – can turn personal troubles such as losing a job into a crisis in a way that it might not for women.”

It takes balls to be a househubby

Marie-Claire Chappet, writing at The Periscope Post, recounted her own experience growing up with a stay-at-home-dad, whilst her mother worked as the primary breadwinner – though it sometimes prompted questions from other children like “Is your mother dead?”, she is grateful for having grown up in a household where traditional gender roles were reversed. “I suspect that the final frontier of gender equality is not women in the boardroom, but men in the kitchen, holding their heads up with pride. After all, it takes balls to be a househusband.”

Tackling suicide

Meanwhile, the government launched World Suicide Prevention Day on Thursday. The campaign aims to improve awareness and understanding of the reasons behind suicide and how it can be prevented and better support for both high risk groups and those bereaved by a loved one’s suicide. Care services minister Norman Lamb told The Daily Mail:  “We want to reduce suicides by better supporting those most at risk and providing information for those affected by a loved one’s suicide.” Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, welcomed the strategy and told BBC News: “[S]uicide prevention is everyone’s business, so we need to see a real commitment from all government departments in supporting those at risk.”

More on gender politics

  • It takes balls to be a househusband
  • Are women becoming the richer sex?
  • Is there still sexism in sport?
  • What Louise Mensch’s resignation means for working mothers

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