It’s time to talk about suicide among middle-aged men.
An article was sent to me when Linkin Park’s frontman, Chester Bennington died by suicide. The title of the article in the Independant was “After Chester Bennington’s tragic death, we need to examine the societal issues which lead to such high suicide rates among this demographic.” Jay Watts is a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist.
After reading the article I had this visceral dump of words to paper. This is unedited and crude, authentic and vulnerable. If we’re going to save men’s lives, we have to sit with them, with us, where we are at.
Are you fucking kidding me? We don’t have to examine anything. We just have to get our heads out of our asses and admit that we; men, dads are choosing to fuck up our sons and daughters because we get a little uncomfortable about vulnerability and talking about how we feel. Life is not a beer commercial. We know it but we get boxed in. We’re killing ourselves because of the masks we live in.
The corporate and marketing world continues to tell us that in order to be a man you have to suck up all the emotional garbage that you’ve ever faced and put it away. Put it away so that you can be successful, wealthy, powerful and sexy. Also, you probably want to package it in a huge muscular frame…that will help protect anything from coming out. Then, join a football or hockey team to surround yourself with a bunch a likeminded and equally programmed men so that when you do feel any sense of weakness or potential for any emotion to come out you’ll be reminded how to cram it back in even deeper this time.
Now you’re ready for the corporate and business world. In my case now I’m ready to be a hyper-masculinized firefighter. Fuck, I know a label like that will surely keep me safe. It seems to work for rock stars so why not me. Besides I can’t sing or play guitar.
Now I’m going to get married and have kids. Why not, all the cool men are doing it. My wife is really hot so I get extra points with the guys. She doesn’t realize it but she too is helping me keep up this facade. She’s been programmed to make sure that I don’t step off of my white horse (Brene Brown).
This fucking mask is killing me.
Ten years later; big house, big job title, living vicariously through my children, loveless marriage (wtf is love anyway??) …. mid 40’s…divorce…depression… I’m fucking lost….PTSD….I’m lonely…. unbearable pain that just won’t go the fuck away…I want to die! I’m drinking way too much…..BOOM….. I’m dead!
…pause…. stop reading for 20 seconds…..let this sink in…it’s real.
When I first posted this to Facebook I had six men within two hours contact me and say “that’s me!” Almost immediately, I received calls and texts from women who were concerned for my safety. Some men as well but mostly women. I’m grateful for their caring because although the article is not specifically about me, it kind of is. I said to those who called, “I was more at risk when I was silent. I was more at risk when you thought I was okay.” I challenged everybody to look at the middle-aged men in their lives and know that they too could be feeling much of what I wrote right now. Our masks are powerful and we are very good at hiding anything but strength.
Since my diagnosis with PTSD, I’ve learned and lived first hand the stigma of mental illness. Michael Landsberg does incredible work with his #sicknotweak campaign but I can tell you (in my case) it’s just not working…it certainly hasn’t changed the workplace that I come from which is 99% men. The sense of weakness and alienation are palpable and crushing. This would not exist if I had cancer.
The suicide rates for men are 3 times higher than women. So what can we do about it?
Men; we need to talk, we need to say how we feel, we need to cry and we need to hug. It’s interesting, when I write this it sounds ‘hippy dippy’, soft and perhaps weak. However, after National Hockey League enforcer Wade Belak died by suicide, his teammates had no problem talking, saying how they feel, crying and hugging. We need to start doing this before men die.
We need to talk about masculinity. We need to tear it apart. We can no longer ask what is going on with men. We already know. We need to get gritty, authentic and vulnerable. We need to stop labeling authenticity and vulnerability as weaknesses. It’s killing us.
Ultimately, we don’t have to examine the societal issues that lead to the high rates of suicide among men. We have to examine the emotional issues of men and why we see death as a conscious option over emotional authenticity and vulnerability.
I believe we can save men from dying by suicide but we are going to have to get real to do it.
About the Author: Scott Chisholm is founder of the Collateral Damage Project, career firefighter and paramedic, divorced father of two sons and PTSD survivor. Scott lost his father to suicide when he was 17 years old. His Dad was 47 years old.