To everyone who knew him Dan McAllister was handsome, popular, funny and talented, with a smile that lit up every room. However, this was not the full story. Like many other men in Britain today, Dan didn’t talk openly about emotions or thoughts that did not fit with his image of strength and being a “man”. As a result he felt unable to ask for help and tried to deal with his problems alone. Like too many others he failed.
Societal shift is needed to deconstruct the current harmful gender stereotypes but we can all play our part.
SToRMS promotes discussion about our individual assumptions, perceptions and judgements of each other through WISETALKERS training. Awareness of these influences enables us to challenge our own beliefs (including those around gender stereotypes) and manage our automatic reactions to certain situations, making it OK for everyone to talk about how they feel.
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Suicide is the biggest killer of men and women under 35 in the UK. “Suicides in Great Britain: 2016 Registrations” published by the Office for National Statistics revealed 5668 people took their own life in Great Britain in 2016. Of these 4,287 were men – that’s one man every two hours. The figures also show men are three times more likely than women to take their own lives. Which means, if you’re male and under the age of 45 in this country, the thing most likely to kill you is you. All these deaths are preventable.
SToRMS believes that gender stereotypes may be a factor contributing to the high rates of suicide in men. Phrases such as “stop acting like a little girl” remain in common usage. These perpetuate stereotypes that are negative for both boys and girls: only girls cry and ask for help, only boys are strong. This is obviously not true but until society views and accepts everyone as individuals, rather than either stereotypical boys or girls, some of our young men will continue to feel unable to ask for help. No-one should feel they have to deal with their problems alone.
The Samaritans also recognise this as an issue. On their website, they present research showing that “men compare themselves against a ‘gold standard’ which prizes power, control and invincibility.”
Challenging the definition of a ‘real man’ is crucial in any efforts to reduce male suicide. We must teach our sons (and daughters) that strength comes in sharing your problems and seeking help rather than facing issues alone. This is not a gender issue. We should all be able to express our emotions and listen to each other without judging and without being influenced by damaging gender stereotypes. This will take a significant shift in societal norms so will not be easy to achieve. Until that point we must help our boys understand that a real man is one who defines his own beliefs, values and identity on his own terms, instead of struggling to adhere to generic and possibly unattainable gender stereotypes. This aim will feature in all of our strategies.
Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. #TalkingIsTough