Males are struggling with their mental health but not speaking up.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports almost four times more males than females die of suicide. It is a little-known fact that being male is the most significant suicide factor. There are professors and members of Congress who speak about the health of teen boys and girls, and suicide, who do not know about the gender gap.
The lack of research contributes to the lack of understanding of depression and distress suffered by teen boys. Experts also believe the way societal expectations affect boys’ emotional expression and well-being causes an increase in suicidal deaths.
Boys are conditioned not to express their emotions or ask for help. The conditioning prevents many young men and boys from saying they feel sad. The National Institution of Mental Health tells us boys may exhibit depression through loss of interest in hobbies or school, fatigue, irritability, anger, and aggression.
A 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed girls fared worse than boys in nearly all reported mental health-related challenges, suicidal thoughts, and experiences of violence. The survey asked about hopelessness and sadness but did not ask about irritability or anger, which may explain the high levels of depression in females but missed despair among males.
The evidence seems to indicate the questions asked cause an under-detection of depression in men. Michael C. Reichert is the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives founding director.
His research showed that many young men from 18 to 23 feel no one really knows them. An American Perspective Survey found 15 percent of young men do not have a close friend. Despite persistent threats to the mental health of the male population, Reichert feels now is an excellent time to raise a boy.
In his book, ‘How to Raise a Boy: The Power of Connection to Build Good Men’, he says the taboo has been broken, and we allow ourselves to question why we do what we do if it is not working. Like girls, boys need validation, compassion, and care.
Another reason the suicide rate for males is higher than for females may be because they are typically more impulsive, especially as adolescents. Stacey Freedenthal is a licensed clinical social worker. She reports boys tend to develop and mature slower than females.
Boys also tend to choose methods of suicide that are more lethal and violent. The removal of firearms from a home dramatically reduces suicide risk. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports most suicidal people who do not have easy access to lethal methods of suicide will not find another way. Freedenthal says locking up guns is not as effective as removing them. Motivated teens will figure out a way to get past locks.
Overall, there are common themes plaguing a significant portion of men. They don’t know what others expect of them. Men often will not talk about suicide, or anything related to emotions, because of the belief society favors the strong, silent type.
Leon Macfayden, a suicide prevention hotline worker, cites the following as quiet struggles men face.
- Lack of self-belief
- Suffer from toxic masculinity
- Feel weak and feeble
- Not financially successful
- Unable or unlikely to ask for help
It leaves them susceptible to depression and eventually suicide. There is a simple solution that is difficult to attain. We no longer need to cling to superficial measurements of manliness. Men should separate themselves from toxic people and stop bottling their emotions to appear brave and strong.