The SFU Advocacy for Men and Boys (SFUAMB) club decided to speak up about the ‘quiet crisis’ known as the gender discrepancy among those who commit suicide.
In an event held at Harbour Centre on July 3 entitled “The Suicide Sex,” the club brought in speaker Dr. Rob Whitley, the principal investigator of the Social Psychiatry Research and Interest Group at the Douglas Institute’s Research Centre and an assistant professor at the Department of Psychiatry at McGill.
Whitley began his presentation by tossing out a few of the platitudes surrounding the stigmas of male suicide — “men are stubborn; men are self-defeating; men don’t talk about their feelings” — before promptly dismissing them.
“If you came here to listen to me say that men have to be more like women, that’s not what I’m saying,” said Whitley.
He focused the majority of his talk on the causes for male suicide, including major life transitions that men can go through and how they may feel as though they have lost their purpose. He identified divorce, unemployment, retirement, and bereavement as some of these aforementioned life transitions.
Another major cause Whitley addressed is the socio-economic pressure men often face, acknowledging that status and material possessions put a lot of pressure on men.
“I would say that status is an issue in suicide for many men, and that we live in a society where status is defined unidimensionally,” he said. “Sadly, [this is] usually related to material things, cars, watches, clothes, job — and maybe I’m romanticizing things, but in times past, status was also derived from community involvement and just being a decent, upstanding person.”
He expressed that a lot of the newer jobs of today don’t have the same meaningful impact as those in the past, and touched on how this could affect men’s perceptions of the work that they do.
“Being a working man — a miner or a fisherman — was a very honourable trade. It was an important job. Mining gave you energy for the country, fishing gave you food for the country. We’ve decoupled the profession from the social importance. With respect to these people, we’ve got thousands of people working in marketing and public relations,;what do these jobs actually contribute towards society?”
Towards the end of his talk, Whitley discussed potential ways of addressing the suicide epidemic. He said that Canada needs an anti-suicide national strategy, which would help on the macro level for the country. On a more individual level, he stressed that there needs to be more availability in mental health resources for men, as well as more representation for men among health care professionals trained to deal with such issues.
He pointed to programs like Men’s Sheds as a newer kind of resource that could be more beneficial for men. Men’s Sheds started in Australia, and is a place where men can get together and do activities like woodworking projects, bike repairs, and other social events organized specifically for men. Whitley added that some men may prefer that to counseling, as they might feel it helps them more to do than to talk.
He did stress that different people respond to different treatment, and the goal is just to have more resources for all men to allow them to choose the mental health care they receive.
Ultimately, Whitley suggested that though alternative resources should be made available, men dealing with suicidal thoughts should not hesitate to seek help from all available resources.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, there are resources available to you.
SFU Health and Counselling Emergency Services
BC and Canada-wide
Anywhere in BC: 1-800-SUICIDE
Mental health support BC-wide: 310-6789
Howe Sound and Sunshine Coast: 1-866-661-3311
TTY for the hearing- and speech-impaired:
Online chat for youth:
Online chat for adults:
Youth Space text chat for those under 30: 778-783-0177
Emergency line: 911