Earlier this week, September 11th, I attended a club meeting on the campus of the Ohio State University; it was a meeting of the Buckeye Campaign Against Suicide. Much like the previous meeting, I found everyone there to be wonderful. There was just one problem: out of the 27 people there, I was one of only seven men. The previous meeting included a similar proportion.
As I was discussing this with some friends of mine, a couple responses stood out. One of my friends back home in Cincinnati told me, "At least you weren't the only guy. That's good." Another friend, here at OSU, expressed her surprise that the number of guys was even that high, saying, "It's sad, but I would've expected an even lower percentage than that."
Some brief research reaffirms what I'd seen through my own personal experience and through the responses of my friends: suicide prevention is disproportionately levied toward girls and the benefits disproportionately go to them, as well.
One particularly damning report from the US government concluded that "Several studies have shown females to be more responsive to and accepting of suicide awareness programming in schools when compared to male classmates." The same report found "Females showed greater knowledge of and more constructive attitudes about depression and suicide than males. Females were also more likely than males to seek help for emotional disturbances, to intervene on behalf of peers, and to report their own suicidal thoughts or attempts."
It appears clear to me that at a societal level, we are failing the men and boys of the country when it comes to suicide prevention and mental health treatment as a whole, especially as men are 3.5 times more likely to die from suicide than women.
I think that a big part of our problem arises with our generally accepted definition of what it means to "be a man;" our problem arises with our view of masculinity, in all its toxicity. From a young age, boys are taught not to cry or to express or share feelings and emotions, as it is seen as a sign of weakness and, even worse, a sign of femininity.
These bottled up emotions fester and build up inside until either some cathartic release to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist or, in the worst of cases, they're never released at all and our young boys become tortured men.
Coming from an all-male high school, one whose students experienced the pain and anguish of suicide more deeply than anyone that age should, I've seen this firsthand. However, I've also seen that it doesn't have to be this way. I've seen high school boys come together and form a community of love and mutual caring when we needed it most. I've seen cathartic, mass releases of emotion when we've needed it most.
I just wish that it didn't take a tragedy to find that catharsis. I wish that boys were encouraged to deal with their emotions in healthy ways, rather than being told to "suck it up" before something happened. I wish that we could deal with suicide prevention, rather than just suicide postvention.