Thursday, June 1, 2017

The downside of being invincible

It’s a fact not very widely known that more than three times as many men as women die by suicide. In the UK, more than 6,000 people took their own lives last year. More than 75 per cent of them were men.

Building trade workers are at higher risk than average. An ONS survey, Suicide by Occupation, released in March this year, found that manual workers in the construction industry are at 3.7 times greater risk of suicide.

Some men find it difficult to be open about their problems and ask for help when they’re struggling to cope. Some don’t recognise the signs that they’re at risk, and those around them often don’t ask if they’re okay.

Samaritans ‘Men and Suicide’ report identifies evidence which sheds light on why men find it harder to ask for help and speak about how they are feeling.

Some men compare themselves against a gold standard of masculinity which values power, control and toughness above all. If they feel they are not coming up to scratch, men who believe this can feel shame, defeat and despair, and even think: “It would be better for everyone if I am not here”.

Asking for help is not something they can do easily as they see it as a loss of face.

Suicide is also a social issue. Men from the lowest social class living in the most deprived areas, are ten times more likely to end their own lives than men in the highest social class living in the most affluent areas.

Middle aged men are the most at risk. Other factors, such as unemployment, being socially isolated, and relationship breakdown also contribute to their suicide risk.

We need a concerted, national effort to raise awareness and provide support to make a difference and save people’s lives. Supporting work colleagues and promoting good mental health is a big part of this.

The British Safety Council and Health in Construction Leadership Group have launched Mates in Mind to promote wellbeing and resilience, raise awareness of mental health and suicide in the building trade and find effective ways of supporting people. Samaritans is one of the partner organisations.

The reasons behind this unwillingness to ask for help are very complex, but the more people Samaritans can reach with the message that it’s good to talk about what you are going through, and get help early, rather than waiting until you hit a crisis, the more likely we’ll be able to tackle the suicide statistics.

Suicide is complex and what affects one person may not have such an impact on another, so there is no one size fits all solution, or failsafe way to tell if someone is at risk of suicide.

Here are some pointers that you can look out for that may indicate that someone is struggling:

  • A change in routine, such as sleeping or eating less than normal.
  • Lacking energy or appearing particularly tired.
  • Drinking, smoking or using drugs more than usual.
  • Finding it hard to cope with everyday things.
  • Not wanting to do things they usually enjoy.
  • Becoming withdrawn from friends and family – not wanting to talk or be with people.
  • Appearing more tearful.
  • Appearing restless, agitated, nervous, irritable.
  • Putting themselves down in a serious or jokey way, for example 'Oh, no one loves me', or 'I'm a waste of space'.
  • Losing interest in their appearance, not liking or taking care of themselves or feeling they don't matter.


Economic insecurity, the strains of self-employment, competition in the job market, zero hours contracts and low wages all take their toll in an industry that can be punishing to be part of. Employers are increasingly recognising that they need to make a concerted effort to tackle this issue.

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50, and it’s everybody’s business to look out for themselves and their mates. Simply asking: “Are you okay?” could be a positive step towards a more open and accepting attitude which could ultimately save lives.


Content written and provided by Samaritans.

Share this post