A harrowing story in the Telegraph over the weekend described how a severely depressed 18-year-old man -- who made 40 attempts to take his own life -- was labelled “a drama queen” by a doctor before he went on to kill himself.
That throw-away three-word quote, said more about the deep cultural prejudices that underpin male suicide than was mentioned in the rest of the article’s 1,500-words put together.
As an implicitly homophobic insult deployed to humiliate gay and straight men alike, the words encapsulate the gendered shame still imposed on young men who express weakness or distress.
The fact that men are humiliated for somehow being “less of a man” for showing emotion, goes a long way to explain why suicide is now the leading cause of death for 20 to 40-year-old men in the UK, a rate that’s three to four times that of women.
Young gay men even more at risk
But the implied homophobia of the insult also helps to explain why the suicide rate of young gay men is even higher still.
A 2012 survey by Stonewall Scotland, suggested gay men in Scotland were nearly eight times more likely to have attempted suicide in the past year than heterosexual men.
It seems that the further a young man deviates from the expected rules of the masculine role – to be tough, straight and stoical – the greater the shame that’s imposed upon him.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of a health professional effectively telling a young man at risk of suicide to “man up”.
Several years ago I reported on the suicide of a 26-year-old man from Manchester who'd hung himself in the woods by a motorway slip road.
His sister told me that when he had visited his GP, her brother was told to "pull himself together and not expect everyone to do everything for him".
By Dan Bell
Photo courtesy: Mic445
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