This week, one of my old friends died. We used to work together, and we had a special bond, being able to trust one another with our emotions and fears, and our shared experience of losing a parent too soon. Such connections last, across time and space. In any case, this is not about our background, our friendship. This is also not about my sadness and my grief, my tears. This is about something much deeper and dangerous, something that is the biggest killer amongst men under the age of 45 (according to a BBC documentary featuring Prince William and some well-known footballers): suicide. When I was much younger, my opinion of suicide was that it was a selfish and cowardly way out for someone unable to face their problems. I thought that it was a horrible way to hurt those you loved most. Leaving your problems but those of your loved-ones had just begun. In a very twisted way that life sometimes throws upon us, as of today, three men I knew, one a friend, one a family member and one a family friend, have ended their lives. Their ages range from 15 to 60. Out of respect to these men, their families and myself, I am not going to elaborate as to why, how, what and when. This is not the essence of what I am writing here. What I want to voice is my concern that male suicide is nothing new, that rates are exceptionally high and that we, as a society have still a long way to go until the genders are truly equal, to the extent that these shocking statistics are no more. The Mental Health Foundation found that 75% of all suicides in 2017 were committed by men. So where is the problem? What do we have to do? Why did my friend, once able to share his feelings with me, close up and say no more? Why did a 15 year old boy decide to end his life and, to this day no one knows why but only suspects he was bullied at school for being different? Why did a family man quietly decide he couldn’t go on anymore? I am no expert and would never be so arrogant to say that I know all about men’s mental health. What I do know is that there is still a stigma around men sharing feelings and emotions. Whilst I am also lucky enough to know a lot of men that are comfortable enough to open up and be truthful about what’s going on in their heads, generally, and I see this in the playground, a boy or male teenager who shows emotions is laughed at, a wimp, a lesser man. Men (according to, please tell me exactly, which law?!) are supposed to be strong, level-headed, factual and no-nonsense-get-to-the-point-don’t-beat-around-the-bush-straight-talking creatures. And as the BBC documentary states: “As a man in the dressing room [after a football match] you’re not allowed to cry.” Having seen the fault in this obsolete and ridiculous rule, nowadays, as mothers of sons, as sisters of brothers, as girlfriends of boyfriends, as female friends of men, as wives of husbands, we are working overtime to instil a softer side into our boys, into our men, tell them it’s OK to be whatever you want to be. Be head-strong and no-nonsense-get-to-the-point-don’t-beat-around-the-bush-straight-talking, go for your goals, but know it’s OK to ask for help, to admit exhaustion, to notice and voice feelings and emotions. It’s healthy, it’s necessary. However, somewhere along the lines, something swoops in and messes it up for some – not for all of them, but for some. My heart breaks for the families, those left behind by those men who couldn’t see another way out. But the pain I feel for those three wonderful men I was allowed to know is beyond words. I try to understand why they felt they had no one to talk to, no one to confide it, no one to share their darkest, deepest fears and worries. I can’t begin to imagine the soul-destroying loneliness engulfing them, for suicide was their only way out. There was no light anymore to keep them going. There was no meaning and reason left. And all the while I struggle to come to terms with it because, you know, really, in this day and age, where we are all supposed to be equal – this shouldn’t happen anymore. But it does. A lot.
I am not in a professional capacity to give advice, so what I am going to say comes from my very sad heart: Be kind. Teach everyone to be kind. Show kindness to those who are unkind to you and light up your surroundings with love and light. Don’t stop encouraging men to talk about feelings and stand up to those bullies who mock any man or boy of any age that emotions or feelings and weaknesses don’t belong to them. Whether you’re male or female, or somewhere in between: Stand tall and proud behind any man and boy who shows emotions. We’d all gain. The world would be a softer and more tolerant place. And fewer men would feel that suicide is the only way out.
May you find peace, you beautiful souls. You are so very much loved.