The guy on the billboard, all pecs and ego? The metrosexual with guyliner and man-bag? A misogynist brute, enslaved to his hormones? Mr Fix-it, good with his hands? The sports-mad Jock, just one of the lads?
Is he the darling of rom-com hero: sensitive, soulful and close to his mum? Or an all-action hero: hard as nails, with no time for sentiment or weakness?
Each day we’re presented with wildly differing images of masculinity. What we’re rarely shown is anything approaching a human being. What happens when your gender models look nothing like you? It’s confusing – and dangerous.
Here’s a question. What’s the commonest cause of death among men under 35?
Car accidents? Drugs? Alcohol? Stabbings?
Guess again. It’s suicide.
Every year 5,000 people in the UK take their own lives. Almost a quarter of them are men aged between 16 and 24. Men aged 20-24 are 4 times more likely to kill themselves than women – even though more women attempt suicide and suffer from depression at a much higher rate.
So what’s going on? One suggestion is that men are less likely to talk about their feelings or seek help. Silence is seen as synonymous with strength – but that strength can be a dangerous facade.
Here’s another. Because of the way in which they try to kill themselves, men are more likely to succeed. Suicidal men are 18 times more likely than suicidal women to shoot themselves. They are at least three times more likely to hang themselves or throw themselves under a train. Why?
Writing in the journal ‘Comprehensive Psychiatry’, George E. Murphy, says that this can be explained by cognitive differences between men and women.
Murphy, (professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine), argues that women are less inclined to commit suicide, because their thinking is more inclusive. Women, he says, will consider not just their own feelings, but those of others and may continue to seek input and process problems long after the point where men decide on a course of action. In contrast, says Murphy, “a man is much less likely to take those things into account. He makes his decision, and it’s about him, so he doesn’t feel the need to share it with anyone else.”
There’s more. Before considering suicide, women are much more likely to seek help with their problems. In contrast, many men see this as an admission of weakness. They believe that men are supposed to be competent in all areas – to ‘get things done.’ So, in a sense, the violence is the point. For some men, this last desperate act is a way of finally proving their masculinity and of taking back control. But by then it’s too late.
Killing yourself might feel like an act of courage or taking back control – but the opposite is true, irrespective of gender. It’s harder to face your fears than to silence them. It’s braver to ask for help than to struggle alone. Death is not an answer or an escape. And it robs, not only you, but those you leave behind.
Please, please – don’t.
Campaign against living miserably (Calm): 0800 585858, thecalmzone.net
Charlie Walker Memorial Trust: 01635 869754, cwmt.org
Samaritans: 084 790 9090, samaritans.org