Today, on #InternationalWomensDay, we are thinking about #BalanceforBetter and encouraging society to work towards a gender-balanced world. From the boardroom to media coverage and government, ensuring there is gender-balance empowers everyone in society, regardless of gender identification.
Ensuring that those who identify as male do get support with their thoughts of suicide is vital, however the #BalanceforBetter campaign provides unified direction, ensuring that no member of society is overlooked.
Thankfully, there is a growing discussion of the figures and scale of men’s suicide. Men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women. Reasons for this are complex and unclear – there has been speculation that this could be because women are more likely to seek psychological help or talk about depressive or suicidal feelings. But this presents another problem – most countries do not record or represent suicide attempts. This is where, in the current discussion of suicide prevention, the numbers of women experiencing suicidal thoughts could be overlooked, and their difficulties unaddressed.
Katy Preen said, in 2018, that “[t]he toxic culture that has pressured men into bottling things up is the same culture that condones and encourages the everyday harassment of women.” And harassment is one of many stressors and traumas, including accounts of abuse we hear about on HOPELINEUK, which affect many women. In other words, the same toxic culture which creates high rates of male suicide also creates high levels of, often overlooked or unseen, suicidal ideation in women.
When we couple this with the UK’s current mental health crisis, and an ever-higher threshold for treatment in an NHS with increasingly stretched resources, there is a growing stigma, and danger, around not being ill enough for help. This is why some people feel a burden before accessing support, or may never access support. A #BalanceforBetter approach to mental health support encourages a “gender sensitive approach” in psychological (and other) treatments – we need to look beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to mental health support and suicide prevention, particularly if the approach is based on a misreading of statistics. And particularly if those struggling with thoughts of suicide are left without meaningful and long term support.
While the female suicide rate has remained stable since 2007, 2017’s ONS stats showed an unprecedented rise in young women taking their own lives. And recent figures from NHS Digital show that a fifth of 17 – 19 year-old girls self-harm or attempt suicide. Contributory factors suggested by experts include damage from social media, pressures to look good and sexual violence. While we have, as a society, become more accustomed to highlighting suicide risk around middle-aged men, we also need to be concerned about the increasing risks for young women.
When comparing statistics such as these, we need to remind ourselves of several things. Firstly, and most importantly, any suicide is a tragedy and, at PAPYRUS, we work on the principle that we believe many suicides are preventable. Also, whilst statistics provide areas of focus – a means of targeting suicide prevention to those most vulnerable – there are complexities to the recording of suicide statistics which we need to bear in mind. For instance, female suicides are more likely to be coded as ‘accidental’ or ‘undetermined’ because of the methods chosen.
This is where it’s better to think about where we started, in this article, with the principle of #BalanceforBetter. This kind of principle can transcend the limits of current thinking, and challenge the headlines we often take from statistics. Gender balance empowers everyone in society, most importantly for us at PAPYRUS, it is also a way of moving beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to suicide prevention.