Men are committing suicide 3.54 times more than women. The statistics across North America, Great Britain and Australia all point to the same dire conclusion: men around the world are taking their own lives at a startling rate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that roughly 45,000 people committed suicide in 2016. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, this number rose to 47,173 in 2017.

Of those 47,173 lives lost to suicide, white males accounted for 77.97%.

In Canada, the most recent suicide data is from 2009. However, the statistics closely reflect those more recently collected in the United States. According to Statistics Canada, male suicide rate has been consistently higher than women throughout the past 60 years.

This trend is also present in Great Britain, as the Office for National Statistics reports that 75% of suicides recorded in 2017 were male. In fact, males have accounted for three-quarters of the total number of suicides since the 1990s.

Again, in Australia, the Bureau of Statistics reports that in 2017 men accounted for 75% of suicides. Further, suicide is the main cause of death in Australian men aged 15 to 44, and was ranked the 10th leading cause of death for men in 2017.

These statistics raise the question: why are men more likely to commit suicide than women?

According to Mike Gawliuk, Director of Service Delivery and Program Innovation at CMHA Kelowna, the factors behind this imbalance are multifaceted. “When it comes to the issue of suicide, that the ratio of male to female deaths by suicide is approximately 3 to 1. There are number of factors that ultimately play into that,” stated Gawliuk.

Mike Gawliuk
Mike Gawliuk

One of these factors is the socialization of males that stigmatizes vulnerability and equates mental illness with weakness. Gawliuk explained, “how boys are raised and how masculinity is defined, oftentimes that notion of opening up and talking to others about what's going on is not.. Encouraged. In the absence of conversation it's really hard to identify what's happening for your friend, your loved one, your coworker, and that stuff just tends to stay under the surface.”

Not only are men staying silent about their illness, but the signs of their struggle manifest differently than those of women, and so are often misinterpreted or overlooked. For example, men’s symptoms of depression often present as irritability or anger, as opposed to sadness.

When it comes to spotting signs of mental illness in both men and women, Gawliuk points to several general indicators.

“You can see it in terms of energy level, oftentimes when a person is depressed they're really tired, they can be kind of sluggish,” he explained. Noticeable changes in sleep and appetite can also be indicators of an underlying issue.

“A day or two here or there where you see that stuff happening is one thing, because everybody has a bad day, but when that’s a progressive and an ongoing pattern of behavioural change, then that’s when you would start to wonder if something was taking place,” added Gawliuk.

There are several organizations such as Heads Up Guys at UBC Vancouver and the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation that are working to address men’s mental health needs. However, the stigma surrounding male vulnerability and perception of weakness is still a factor in high male suicide rates. “Men aren't comfortable or used to having conversations about what's going on in their lives or how they feel,” said Gawliuk. Consequently, although the services are available, it’s not easy for men to reach out for help.

A key part of breaking society’s detrimental construction of masculinity is starting a conversation about men’s mental health - free from judgement, free from male shame. The conversation about mental health is certainly underway. However, mainstream campaigns often overlook the unique challenges that men face when struggling with illness.

“It's okay to have a conversation, and it's okay not to be okay” insisted Gawliuk, “because in all cases there is help … the first step in getting better is to talk about what's happening.”

In many ways, mental health and physical health should be treated the same way. If someone breaks a bone, they seek treatment. If someone is struggling from depression, they should be able to seek treatment in the same way, without judgement or shame.

“Really [mental and physical health] are no different from one another,” said Gawliuk, “but how we view them… really gets in the way of getting the help that is out there.”

Gawlik added that The CMHA’s goal is to “build a mentally healthy community.” They do so through community events and education programs designed to raise awareness about mental health while actively working to destigmatize it.

Visit their website for more on mental illness treatment, or to find an education opportunity near you.