Has society become accustomed to the tragedy of male suicide?
Words by MATTHEW WHITEHEAD
Gary Speed, Tim Bergling, Alexander McQueen, Robin Williams, the list of famous names could continue to go on and on. However, what would an accomplished football manager, an internationally renowned DJ, a universally adored actor and a fashion icon, all have in common? The answer is both chilling and frequent; they have all committed suicide. While the uniting of fans, media and families to celebrate the lives and achievements showed the world the strength of collective mourning, we don’t stop and wonder what their passing tells us about mental health and why as a society we are failing to recognise the silent killer that is male depression.
In a world where cancer, heart disease, road accidents and strokes are constantly featured as the top dangers to human life, it is alarming to learn that suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20 to 49 in England and Wales [Mental Health Foundation, 2018]. However, is this a statistic that the UK has always subconsciously known? A fact that although taboo we have accepted, become accustomed to, or even learnt to live with. With online articles describing how Bergling committed suicide with ‘shards of glass’ [Business Insider, 2018], how Williams ‘used a belt to hang himself’ [CNN, 2014] and media constantly saturating the public eye with every intimate detail of every unfortunate celebrity who has succumb to depression. Have we become numb to fact that male suicide is an epidemic?
Unfortunately, this is not a statement which only exists within the bright lights of Hollywood, but is closely mimicked within society. In 2017, 75% of the 5,821 suicides in Great Britain were male, a statistics which has been unwavering since the mid 1990’s [Office For National Statistics, 2018], suggesting that suicide has continued to be a predominately male problem for almost 25 years and is not being addressed. Through the public dissection of these celebrities lives, we often forget the silent killer that is much closer to home. With ‘1 in 6 people experiencing depression or anxiety in any given week in England’ [Mind, 2016], these mental health problems are worryingly common.
Furthermore, with mental health issues becoming a main focus within the public eye, how come so many men are not talking about how they feel?This unspoken threat not only damages individual men, with 33% of men saying they have not tried seeing a therapist and would not consider it in the future [YouGov, GQ December 2018, P169], but also alarmingly adds to the stigma surrounding men asking for help, with 25% more people being happy to help their loved ones with their issues, rather than ask for help when they need it.
“It is alarming to learn that suicide is the most common cause of death for men”
However, with campaigns like Movember, a movement originally focused on increasing knowledge of prostate cancer and now focused on raising awareness on male issues, such as suicide and mental health, there is an undeniable change on the horizon. From beer mats down your local asking you to ‘Have your mates back’ to posters on the back of club toilets telling you ‘It’s okay to ask for help’, the evidence that society is starting to break the lock on the taboo of male depression is beginning to show and it provokes the question, is now the time to design better ways for men to cope with their issues?
Currently, design is a male dominated industry, with 63% of the jobs in the creative industries being taken by men [Dezeen, 2017], a statistic which is 10% higher than the national average [Catalyst, 2018]. With design being such a fundamental framework to our everyday lives, encompassing our jobs, routines, emotions and feelings, it’s only natural to want to use design to tackle mental health issues. However, the grey area between men within the design industry and then design focused towards men’s mental health needs to be addressed. With over half the industry shying away from battling the silent taboo because of their subconscious inherent inability to access their emotions and talk about them freely, the issue is not being tackled. Therefore, by using design to access and tackle male depression, you are not only helping men within the industry to break through the stigma, but also sending out ripples through a wider audience.
Finally, the media also has huge responsibility in shifting the public perception of mental health. With the BBC offering support after programmes which tackle issues, through their service Actionline [BBC, 2018], the subject of mental health is briefly addressed between the rolling credits of EastEnders and the 10 o’clock news. However, significantly more needs to be done, especially when 65% of people surveyed said they would not react to what they saw in the media. Therefore, other major TV channels and media need to address how they are reporting on mental health issues and how they are offering support to their audience, not representing the issue as an afterthought. For the public to be more willing to talk about their mental health, for designers to work towards designing a better, more open solution, their needs to be a seismic change in how we view depression, how we represent mental health issues and not just reporting on the tragedies of struggling men and celebrities deciding to take their own lives.
BBC, 2018, ActionLine, information and support for issues covered in our recent programmes, viewed on 4/11/18, < http://www.bbc.co.uk/actionline>
Catalyst, 2018, Women in the workforce: UK, viewed on 4/11/18, <https://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/ women-workforce-uk>
CNN, 2014, Robin Williams death ruled suicide, viewed on 2/11/18, <https://edition.cnn.com/2014/11/07/ showbiz/robin-williams-autopsy/index.html>
Dezeen, 2017, Lack of diversity within UK’s creative industries revealed, viewed on 3/11/18, < https://www. dezeen.com/2017/08/07/lack-diversity-uk-creative-industries-revealed-government-report-dcms-digital-culture-media-sport/>
Gov.uk, 2017, Major causes of death and how they have changed, viewed on 5/11/18, < https://www.gov.uk/ government/publications/health-profile-for-england/chapter-2-major-causes-of-death-and-how-they-havechanged>
Mental Health Foundation, 2018, Mental Health Statistics: Suicide, viewed on 1/11/18, < https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-suicide>
Mind, 2016, Mental health facts and statistics, viewed on 3/11/18, <https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-aremental-health-problems/#.W971IBP7TOR>
Office for National Statistics, 2018, Suicide in the UK: 2017 registrations, viewed on 3/11/18, <https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/suicidesintheunitedkingdom/2017registrations>
UK Business Insider, 2018, Avicii took his own life by cutting himself, according to a graphic report by TMZ, viewed on 1/11/18, <http://uk.businessinsider.com/avicii-reportedly-killed-himself-with-broken-glass-2018- 5?r=US&IR=T>
YouGov, 2018, ‘The Stats’, GQ, December issue, page 169