Middle-aged men in the lowest socio-economic group and living in the most deprived areas are 10 times more likely to commit suicide than those in the most affluent group, often because they have lost a sense of identity and masculine pride, researchers said.
In a report commissioned by the British help-line charity the Samaritans, health experts explored why men in their 30s, 40s and 50s are at such a substantially higher risk of ending their own lives.
The findings suggest suicide is not simply a mental health problem, the researchers said, but also one of men's place in societies and of societies' inability to adapt to men's needs when trying to deal with depression, anxiety and other problems.
"While suicide is mental health issue it is also a social and health inequality issue. This is unjust and unreasonable," said Stephen Platt, a University of Edinburgh health policy research professor and trustee for the Samaritans, who presented the report at a briefing in London. "The differences we are highlighting in this report are not ones that any civilised society should be comfortable with."
Report relevant to developed countries
While the report focused on Britain, the experts behind its findings said it was relevant to many developed countries across the world, especially those that have experienced a post-industrial shift to service-driven economies.
It said that men in mid-life are part of a "buffer" generation, not sure whether to be like their older, more traditional, silent, austere fathers or like their younger, more progressive, individualistic sons.
"The changing nature of the labour market over the last 60 years has affected working class men," it said. "With the decline of traditional male industries, they have lost not only their jobs but also a source of masculine pride and identity."
The World Health Organisation estimates that every year, almost a million people commit suicide - a rate of 16 per 100 000 or one every 40 seconds. It also estimates that for every suicide, there are up to 20 attempted ones.
Men are more likely to commit suicide than women in almost every country in the world, and the WHO says the main risk factors are mental illness - primarily depression - and alcohol abuse, as well as violence, loss, abuse and pressures from cultural and social backgrounds.
What the study found
The Samaritans study found that in Britain on average about 3 000 middle-aged men from disadvantaged backgrounds kill themselves each year.
Platt described the findings as "shocking" said this high risk group could no longer be ignored.
"Men are often criticised for being reluctant to talk about their problems and for not seeking help," he said.
"With this in mind, we need to acknowledge that men are different to women and design services to meet their needs, so they can be more effective."
(Reuters Health, September 2012)
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