New report explores middle-aged men’s experiences of mental health and suicidal behaviour

In the Autumn of 2021, Healthwatch Essex engaged with a group of middle-aged men who had experienced suicidal feelings. We hoped to understand and explore men’s mental health and the factors which contributed to these suicidal behaviours. The participant’s accounts provided valuable insight into men’s mental health and the factors and life pressures that contribute to suicidal thoughts. These findings are now shared in a new report titled ‘“The more we talk about it, the better it will be”: Middle-Aged Men’s Experiences of Mental Health and Suicide’.

Despite recent national campaigns to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and to encourage those at risk to seek support earlier on, suicide rates among men remain persistently high. With this in mind, Healthwatch Essex sought to understand men’s lived experiences and explore what led them to contemplate suicide.

The men interviewed as part of our study, described how their suicidal feelings were often a result of multiple pressures, societal burden, the stigma associated with men and mental health, life events, trauma and work pressures. It was not a single event, but often the accumulation of these pressures which triggered feelings of personal failure and a sense of losing control, which contributed to thoughts of suicidal ideation. Middle age is often a period of increased life demands, navigating of life changes and the juggling of multiple roles. Many of our participants described major life changes such as becoming a parent, the experience of bereavement or the diagnosis of a health condition as sources of pressure. There was also a sense that the increasingly fast pace of modern life reduced their sense of security and connectedness. Several men that we spoke to had previously viewed work as a source of self-worth and stability. Now, they regarded it as a source of stress. This is due in part to the rise in insecure work conditions and a lack of work/life balance.

Our study found that the men who attempted to reach out and seek help, were often met with a lack of understanding and limited support. This response reinforced their views that they should internalise their concerns, and limit how they express themselves. Men were conscious that they did not want to be a ‘burden’ on family and friends and would often withdraw socially. Healthwatch Essex recognise that there is a need to identify those at risk and to tailor suicide prevention campaigns, so that they resonate with middle-aged men. This will hopefully normalise the act of speaking out and seeking support amongst middle-aged men who are struggling.

Healthwatch Essex’s Research Manager, Dr Kate Mahoney, said: “This report identifies the wide variety of stressors that negatively affect middle-aged men’s mental health. Men clearly require spaces to openly discuss the pressure they feel to conform to narrow definitions of masculinity. As a society, more work needs to be done to overcome the stigma attached to suicide. Men need to know that they will be greeted with empathy and support when they open up about their feelings of suicidal ideation. By identifying avenues for further research, we hope that this report is just the beginning; a step towards understanding the complexities of men’s mental health experiences across the course of their lives, as told in their own words.”

The full report can be found here.