Health Advocate Blog

Worried that a male friend or loved one may be suicidal?

Here’s what you should know

The statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are hard to ignore: Of the almost 45,000 people in the U.S. who kill themselves every year, nearly 79 percent are men. And while women are more likely to attempt suicide, men are nearly four times more likely to carry it out. And it’s not just young males who have the highest rates. Suicide was highest for males 65 and older.

What’s behind it?

There is no single risk factor for suicide including for suicide in men. However, experts say that mental health problems (depression, substance abuse disorders or other mental disorders that go untreated or undiagnosed), access to firearms, family history of suicide, recent imprisonment, loss of loved one/job/relationship/finances/health, impending crisis, or exposure to suicide, may all play a role.

Societal views of manhood may also be connected. Many men have been conditioned to view troubling or negative emotions—like sadness, fear, or being overwhelmed with life’s pressures–as a sign of weakness. As a result, they may be uncomfortable or unable to express these emotions or to reach out for help when they are stressed. 

How you can help

People who think about suicide often feel a sense of hopelessness, not belonging, being alone, or being a burden to others. They put it all together and begin thinking that the way to deal with their psychological pain is to end their life. But there is help—depression can be treated, for example, and hope can be restored.

Don’t delay in reaching out to get your friend or loved one help if you notice the following warning signs:

  • Talking or writing about suicide, including hints like “You’ll be better off without me”
  • Withdrawal from friends or family, saying or feeling things like “They just don’t understand me”
  • A painful life event such as a loss of a relationship
  • Expressing hopelessness, rage, a desire for revenge, or feeling trapped, worthless, or guilty
  • Changes in behavior/not being themselves, including irritability/agitation, loss of concentration, disinterest in pleasurable activities, taking more risks than normal, giving away prized possessions
  • Using drugs and/or alcohol to help cope with emotions, relationships, the pressure of work or other issues
  • Taking action such as seeking access to a weapon, pills or other means to harm oneself

What to do next

If you’re worried that a friend or relative may pose a suicide risk, it’s important to direct them to a professional and encourage them to seek treatment. For starters, ask if they are considering ending their life, and then just listen. From there you can keep them away from lethal means, talk them through their feelings and connect them with the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a free and confidential service available to all people 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-800-273-TALK. You can also refer them to online resources.  For example, headsupguys is a non-profit focusing on depression in men with information surrounding suicide prevention tips and strategies.

If you believe someone is in imminent danger, call 911. Do not leave them alone.

If you are struggling with depression or hopelessness yourself, talk to your healthcare provider who can refer you to a professional for support. Or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.