Suicide becomes Movember topic as more middle-aged men die in 'disturbing trend'
Single men, in their 40s and 50s, are statistically much more likely to die from suicide
More middle-aged men in Canada are choosing to end their lives in what a health writer calls a troubling trend, but it's preventable with the right supports, tools and a willingness to reach out.
"It is the trend that is disturbing, not just in Canada but in the U.S. and Britain as well," Sharon Basaraba — a nationally syndicated longevity columnist — told Daybreak Alberta this week.
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"When you look at suicide deaths across age groups, men in their 40s and 50s have the highest rates, almost half of suicides are in this age range. It is not just a story of stats of course, it's a real human toll that depression takes."
Basaraba says there has been a shift in the statistics over the last 30 years.
"Statistically, women actually are more likely to attempt suicide, men are much more likely to die from it because they tend to use more lethal methods. Since the late 1980s the rate among men in their 40s and more recently in their 50s has risen, even while suicides among other age groups are declining," she explained.
"Midlife is actually now called a risk factor for suicides and that is why campaigns like Movember are addressing it."
She said married men are the least likely to commit suicide.
"The idea is they have a built-in social network. Single men are much more likely to die from suicide statistically than men who are married, followed by men who have lost a spouse or are divorced. The suicide rate is twice as high between the ages of 40 and 60 or so for men who are widowed or divorced than it is for those that are widowed or divorced at other ages."
Basaraba says mental health issues are a factor, but not the only one.
"More than 90 per cent of people who commit suicide have either a mental illness or addiction problem, but no one factor or illness explains it all. Many people with depression do not consider suicide. It is the combination of mental illness, childhood trauma, family breakdown, poor health which may lead to financial problems or financial problems independently, loss of a job, lack of social support."
Part of the problem is men of a certain age have been programmed to keep their feelings to themselves, she said.
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"I am generalizing here but typically women and younger men are able to discuss challenges more openly, get support that way," Basaraba said.
"That might not really be true for middle-aged men, in their 40s and 50s. They are kind of sandwich generation, emulating their fathers, that kind of stoicism, be strong, it is a weakness to admit that you are vulnerable, that you have lost your job, you define yourself that way."
She says defining yourself by your occupation, at the expense of other attributes, can be a problem.
"This is a really difficult one for many men," Basaraba said.
"They are socialized to define themselves in terms of their jobs, to see themselves as the major breadwinner. If you have all your eggs in that employment basket, it is really devastating to lose the way you define yourself in terms of your job title. If one aspect isn't going very well and you have a more balanced life you can keep a more broad perspective. It is not the end of the world. It is just this one thing in my world. And of course taking action early when mental health problems do arise and you have to be willing to reach out, which is really tough for many guys."
She says being aware of the signs can be an opportunity to start a conversation.
"It is not a definitive list, but often it is things that seem out of character or more exaggerated from previous behavior. More anxiety, inability to concentrate, anger, irritability, a change in sleep patterns, low energy, no motivation, lack of interest in things they would ordinarily enjoy," she said.
"About five per cent of men experience serious anxiety in any given year. The hallmark sign is not being able to shake that sense of doom and sometimes it is accompanied by chest pains, obsessive thoughts even when that anxiety trigger has passed."
What can a friend or loved one do?
"Listening can be the greatest assistance," Basaraba explains.
"Ask questions about their sense of isolation, their sleep habits, have they been drinking or taking medications to manage those feelings or about their anxiety level. Don't try and problem solve, just listen, do your best to be non-judgemental. Do not agree to keep it confidential. Ask who they feel comfortable with you contacting. You can respectfully and with compassion get in touch with a trained professional to get help for the person you care about," she said.
"People do come back from the brink. They are helped through a difficult time. They emerge with a different perspective, hopefully a more balanced perspective that this one component of their life is not their entire life."
If you need to talk, there are resources available. In Calgary call 1-403-266-HELP (4357) and in southern Alberta contact 1-800-784-2433 and you can find a list of crisis centres in the province here.
If a life is in danger, call 911 immediately.
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With files from Daybreak Alberta