There’s something deeply disturbing happening in men’s sheds in Ireland. I’m not talking about that wonderful men’s support movement – of Australian origin – that helps men the world over to meet in groups to talk – as they work on a project together in a shed, while enhancing their mental health in the process. Many of our men feel they can no longer go on. They feel unable to cope with the pressures of life. They see no escape and no hope for themselves. They feel isolated. Sadly, many of these men are going to their shed to end their own lives.
While there might be some tiny solace to be taken from the fact that our escalating suicide rate has stabilised, there is certainly no room for complacency. Men aged 45-54 are most likely to die by their own hand. The figures show that our teen suicide rates are the 4th highest in Europe. The €12m spent here last year on suicide prevention is a welcome 20% increase in funding on the previous year. But still, during 2014, a total of 486 people took their own lives here, 399 of them men. In Ireland, men are four times more likely to take their own lives than women. Recently, in a small rural village, 2 men separately went to their sheds and ended their own lives. This village doesn’t need to be identified – because sadly this is an all too common event in contemporary Ireland.
Our men are most likely to die by suicide on Saturday night or Monday morning. Why are men doing this? Some will have experienced or perceive a significant loss or life change during the preceding month or year. Some could have recently experienced breakdown in a significant relationship. Life might have altered – either negatively or positively. Some might be in trouble legally or with the Gardai. And for many, we will never know.
For an individual to die by suicide, they will usually need to hold 3 conditions in mind – over a prolonged period of time. They’ll view themselves as a burden to their family, and/or their friends, and/or society. Secondly, they will feel alienated from others - maybe family, or person/s close to them, their circle of friends, or other valued group. And thirdly, they will have acquired the ability for lethal self-injury.
When the proverbial hits the fan, many of us men withdraw into ourselves. We become isolated and we don’t reach out. We might be out of touch with our feelings or feel unable to show them. There’s a great myth about – that men don’t have feelings - that we are unemotional beings. This is an insult to every man. Men are capable of the same profound depth of feeling, sensitivity and thought. Some men feel they must always be macho - the perpetual virile hunter-gatherer. This is a one-dimensional view of man - which does us no favours. It serves only to add to feelings of isolation and inadequacy.
We men are less accepting of ourselves when our spirits take a dive. We often turn our anger inwards and not show our despair. In general, we are more capable of violence. Sadly, as we see in the suicide figures, much of our anger is being directed inwards - at ourselves, instead of outwardly – in a healthy, safe and appropriate way.
Many people will flirt with the notion of suicide at some point in their lives. Statements like “I’d be better off gone” or “they’d be better off without me” are commonplace in the therapy room. Having thoughts like these are part and parcel of the human condition – “normal” thought-responses to abnormal stress levels. But the truth is the vast majority of people never act on these thoughts.
Alcohol is involved in around 50% of Irish suicides. Alcohol is both a depressive drug, and a dis-inhibitor. It lowers inhibitions so that we are more likely to do something we would not normally consider. Excessive alcohol and drug use will lower inhibitions to the point where we will act on suicidal thoughts.
In Ireland, we drink to cope with difficult emotions or situations - to change our mood or mental state. But the truth is - alcohol adversely affects our ability to cope with, and overcome everyday stresses and life events. And it contributes to the development of mental health problems – not to their easing – as many think.
Yes, the first drink or two will increase feelings of well-being - but the effects are depressive from then on. Alcohol does not relieve anxiety and depression. It will usually increase them. Also, the more we drink, the more our tolerance of alcohol will increase – so we will need more to alter our mood or to lower our anxiety, thereby deepening the depression and increasing our anxiety in the process.
Tom Evans is a father, writer, counsellor, and psychotherapist based in Midleton, Cork, Ireland.
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If you have been affected by this article, use these links for support and information:
www.facebook.com/corktherapies Cork Therapies
www.iacp.ie Irish Association for counselling and Psychotherapy
www.nsrf.ie National Suicide Research Foundation
www.ias.ie Irish Association of Suicidology
www.pieta.ie Pieta House
www.spunout.ie/ Spun Out
www.mentalhealthireland.ie Mental Health Ireland
www.pipsproject.com/ PIPS Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide
www.headline.ie Headline - National Media Monitoring Programme for Mental Health and Suicide