Highest rate of suicide among middle-aged men

Self-harm rates among this group also rising
  • Deborah Condon

Men are four times more likely to die by suicide than women and over the last decade, the highest suicide rate among all age groups has occurred in middle-aged men, a new report has found.

The report, Middle-Aged Men and Suicide in Ireland, revealed that men aged between 40 and 59 have the highest rate of suicide of all age groups in Ireland and self-harm rates among this group have also increased in recent years.

However, despite these trends, there has been ‘little attention on middle-aged men in public, policy or research discourse', the report noted. It added that these statistics ‘indicate a clear and urgent need for a specific suicide prevention focus targeting middle-aged men'.

"Despite the disturbing increases in suicidal behaviours among middle-aged men in Ireland in recent years, and at a time of unprecedented socio-economic change, there has been an equally disturbing inertia and ambivalence at a policy and service delivery level in terms of addressing this issue.

"To compound the problem, middle-aged men's voices have largely not been heard in terms of advocating for their own mental health needs. Historically, this age cohort of men have simply ‘got on with it' and ‘sorted out their own problems'. Sadly, this is having increasingly tragic consequences in terms of rising rates of suicide and self-harm among middle-aged men," the report said.

It pointed out that when it comes to suicide and gender, there are certain key factors associated with men. For example, men tend to use more lethal methods of suicide, they are less likely to seek help and they tend to record higher rates of alcohol and substance misuse.

Meanwhile, individual risk factors for suicide include a previous suicide attempt, a family history of suicide, mental disorders, alcohol/substance misuse, job loss or financial problems.

The report found that being marginalised is linked with an increased risk of suicide and the evidence suggests that middle-aged men ‘more broadly, are increasingly at risk of marginalisation'.

It explored the factors underpinning the higher suicide rates among middle-aged men at risk of marginalisation - in other words, men aged 40-59 years old who have at least one other identity characteristic which puts them at greater risk of suicide. It therefore focused specifically on middle-aged men who are gay, transgender, members of the Travelling community, victims of domestic abuse, members of ethnic minority groups, farmers, unemployed, rurally isolated or separated/divorced fathers.

The report was launched by the Men's Health Forum and the HSE. It was produced by the National Centre for Men's Health (NCMH) at the Institute of Technology Carlow and was funded by the HSE's National Office for Suicide Prevention.

"The hope or expectation for finding a magic formula that will be the panacea for addressing the higher suicide rates among middle-aged men is not realistic, nor could it be in the context of the complexity and interplay of causes and risk factors. The report's recommendations provide a roadmap to address the issues and challenges that have been raised; it behoves all stakeholders to mobilise the will and commitment to translate these into tangible outcomes," commented Dr Noel Richardson of the Institute of Technology Carlow.

The report calls for more effective and gender-specific programmes, services, and resources that support the mental health and wellbeing of middle-aged men. It makes recommendations that cover six key areas - advocacy, connection, communication, education and training, stigma reduction and awareness, and support.

These recommendations aim to reduce the risk of suicide faced by particular groups of middle-aged men.

The HSE's National Office for Suicide Prevention will now work with and support the Men's Health Forum in Ireland in implementing a number of these recommendations.

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