There is a problem with male suicide - to be specific - middle aged males. Across the western world, rates of suicide in this cohort are of significant concern, and in New Zealand the number of Maori and European New Zealanders in the target range is significantly high.
What is not well known are the specific reasons why men take their own lives in this age group due to the fact that currently, available research is light on the ground. Detailed research and surveys in the United Kingdom have been carried out that suggest mental health is not the only issue facing men who make an attempt or succeed in the attempt; this includes the evidence base that a great many people who take their own lives have never had an interaction with the public or private health or mental health system.
On the mental health front UK research indicates that when it comes to health and well being men take time off work if they find a lump in their body or experiences chest pain but fewer than one in five would do so if they were experiencing depression or anxiety. It is highly likely that many men are not suffering a diagnosable mental health condition and instead are facing daily life challenges such as stress at work, break down in relationships, the loss of a financial opportunity or business or the break down in a relationship. The UK data is telling:
On average, 191,000 men a year report stress, depression or anxiety caused or made worse by work – an average of 1.2% of men in work over a 12 months period. This compares to an average of 261,000 women over the same period – 1.8% of those in work. (Source: HSE/Labour Force Survey).
The peak age group for these conditions is 45-54 – occurrence is significantly higher than all other age groups.
In a 2016 survey of 1,112 employed men conducted by Opinion Leader for the Men’s Health Forum presents a picture of at least one in ten of the male workforce as significantly stressed:
9% described themselves as severely or extremely stressed
8% strongly agreed that “Overwork and stress caused by a need to achieve on the job or in school affects or hurts my life”
34% agreed or strongly agreed that they were “constantly feeling stressed or under pressure” and 11% strongly agreed.
12% of men said that the last time they were prompted to take time off work to see a GP was because they were “constantly feeling stressed or under pressure” and 11% because of “Prolonged feelings of sadness”.
The reality is that men are less likely to come forward and present to a mental health service or a general health service if they are depressed, stressed or concerned about what could be happening in their lives but they are more likely to speak to a mate, a friend or someone they feel they have a “safe” connection with. By “safe” connection we mean someone they trust will not speak to others about the situation they find themselves in.
Returning to the situation in New Zealand the most recent suicide data released by the Chief Coroner paints a very similar picture when it comes to other jurisdictions. It is important to understand why coronial data is so important to use as stable and usable data - when a person dies by suicide the case is usually forwarded to the coroner for investigation. During an investigation the process is forensically based and delves into the life of an individual – examining every possible avenue in the lead up to a death. Few findings would fall into a margin of error where the judgement would be questions or deemed to be unsafe - resulting in more accurate data.
The provisional suicide data released in New Zealand in August of 2017 showed that in 2016/17 there were 606 deaths, up from 579 from the previous period. The number of males counted was 457 compared to 149 females. In males the previously reported number was 409 and on current data stands at 19.36 deaths per 100,000 New Zealanders. When we further break the numbers down we find that 307 of the 606, or more than half, of the total number of reported suicides in the 2016/17 coronial data were men aged between 25 -64; more than half of all reported deaths. When it comes to Maori men in the same aged range the number of deaths stood at 57 of the total number.
Tellingly, suicide is not just an issue for the nations major cities or districts. When broken down by district health board area for the last decade (reporting period beginning in 2007/8) Waikato recorded a total of 459 deaths, Southern 448, Bay of Plenty 315, Hawkes Bay 242, Taranaki 161, Northland 229 and Canterbury 678. Between 2007/8 and 2016/17 a total of 5,536 New Zealanders have taken their own lives.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention research, for every successful suicide, 25 people will make an attempt on their life. If that ratio is accurate, then it would mean an estimated 7,675 men aged between 25-64 in New Zealand attempted to take their lives in the last reporting period of 2016/17.
I hate to state the obvious we need to do be doing a hell of a lot more than we are doing at the moment.
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