'Ask your friends if they are ok, then ask them again' - Male mental health and suicide

Suffolk figures and organisations have given their views on male mental health and suicide, and how it has affected them

Suffolk figures and organisations have given their views on male mental health and suicide, and how it has affected them, and how it can be prevented - Credit: Archant/Charlotte Bond/Tom Cann/Phil McEwan

A serving police officer has called for more young men to talk to one another after being diagnosed with PTSD after the death of his friend, and seeing suicide in his job every day.

In 2020, 3,682 men took their own life, out a total of 4,912 registered suicides in the UK, and 84% of the UK population, will experience a mental health problem in their life.

According to the most recent statistics on the Samaritans website, the registered suicides figure means that 75% of all suicides were male.

There were 518 registered deaths by suicide in East Anglia in one year, and according to the latest Suffolk Mind statistics, between April and June 2022, 65% of the county's population were at risk of or experiencing stress or mild/moderate mental ill health.

Tom Bull-Jacobs, originally from Felixstowe, currently serves in the police in Birmingham, and when he was just 18-years-old, he suffered the loss of his friend Kyle Donnelly, who died by suicide.

Tom Bull-Jacobs put a plaque on a bench dedicated to his friend Kyle, all to help others with mental health problems.

Tom Bull-Jacobs put a plaque on a bench dedicated to his friend Kyle, all to help others with mental health problems. - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Eleven years later, Tom has spoken of the fact that during the aftermath, he was diagnosed with PTSD, and still suffers depression and anxiety.

He said: "There was no indication from Kyle that he was having these thoughts. Everyone needs to talk about it, to make people realise there are other ways out of a situation and that suicide is an extreme thing that shouldn't be an option.

"With a lot of people, when people really are suicidal, they don't tell anyone and they hide things.

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"I had that experience with Kyle and in my job, when I go to suicides, the family often say 'I spoke to them this morning, and they were absolutely fine'."

Friends gather around the bench at The Grove, Felixstowe, dedicated to mate Kyle Donnelly who died

Friends gather around the bench at The Grove, Felixstowe, dedicated to mate Kyle Donnelly who died suddenly aged just 18 in 2011. They are, left to right, Matt Soper, Andrew Douglas, Tom Bell, Dan Smith, Matt Mackenzie and Peter Finegan. - Credit: Andrew Partridge

Being a police officer, Tom says he sees suicide on a daily basis, and has called for people to talk to one another.

He said: "A big part of mental health and suicide is the not talking. I think an even bigger part is society and toxic masculinity. 

"I think there are certain expectations of a man in society to act in a certain way and be a certain thing, and it isn't manly to open up and talk about your feelings.

"What we do as men therefore, is we let little things build up, and because we never let them out, it builds and builds to the potential extreme when someone wants to take their own life.

"I would love to encourage people to ask their friends 'Are you ok?'

"A good quote I saw, is 'Ask your friends if they are ok, and then ask them again.'

"That's when you are likely to get the real answer, and if more people started doing that and keeping an eye on their friends, we might be able to keep more people safe."

Organisations from around Suffolk have given their views on mental health in men and male suicide.

Phil McEwan, trustee and strategist at MANUP?

Phil McEwan, trustee and strategist at MANUP? - Credit: Phil McEwan

Phil McEwan from MANUP? a men's mental health charity, said: "Masculine gender role socialisation may make it more difficult for men to recognise and seek help for depression.

"One could argue that depression is incompatible with masculinity, as expressing emotion is associated with femininity, and masculinity is linked with competence and self-reliance, while depression involves loss of control and vulnerability.

"Men tend to use denial of depression to demonstrate their masculinity and avoid being seen as inferior.

The MANUP? team 

The MANUP? team - Credit: Phil McEwan

"The adopted term of 'MAN UP' as we know it, needs to be challenged. Don't just brush yourself down and get on with it."

Ezra Hewing, head of mental health education at Suffolk Mind said: "The stresses which most commonly lead to suicide in men include the loss of financial security and status following job loss, the loss of emotional connection following relationship breakdown and lack of regular access to children.

"Another is insomnia or reoccuring nightmares. Addressing unmet emotional needs and poor-quality sleep is essential to reduce the risk of suicide."

Jayne Stevens, CEO at Suffolk User Forum said: "Too often, men stay silent about their problems and difficulties.

"Talking about suicidal feelings can feel impossible. Men can fear letting their families or loved ones down, particularly if they are seen as the strong person, the protector.

"We are supporting men to talk more openly about their feelings, in a safe and non-judgemental way.

"People often tell us they worry about saying the 'wrong' thing and are frightened to ask if someone is thinking of taking their own life."

George Chittock-Nash from the Eastern College Group, which incorporates West Suffolk College, Abbeygate Sixth Form and One Sixth Form College, said: "We've recently introduced a number of initiatives to support our young people.

George Chittock-Nash from Eastern Colleges Group

George Chittock-Nash from Eastern Colleges Group - Credit: Eastern Colleges Group

"We know that typically young male students find it hard to open up and research has shown that walking is an excellent way to dilute the intimacy that traditional face-to-face counselling involves."

Omar O'Connor from Ipswich, was stabbed when he was 20-years-old, and also witnessed his friend getting stabbed in front of him.

For the years following, he went through suicidal thoughts because he says 'I was hurting, and I couldn't get the support that is needed for men."

"Men don't have as many outlets as women. We only get acceptable emotion from what I think people expect from men, which is violence and anger. Anything else, gets ridiculed.

"How I got out of suicide, I faced it. I kept thinking, I don't want to be here, so what do I need to do, I need to change that feeling, and doing that was about exposing it to those people I could trust.

"Speaking to a GP, getting the right type of counselling and therapy and then also, at the end of the courses, being honest enough to say if you actually needed more, because I think a lot of people that get seen, they say they are fine, but the surface has only been scratched.

Omar O'Connor went through suicidal thoughts after he and his friend were stabbed, and has now written a song

Omar O'Connor went through suicidal thoughts after he and his friend were stabbed, and has now written a song all about male mental health called 'Stop'. - Credit: Archant

"What I would say to people, if anyone has these thoughts, I would say, take your time, tell me what happened, tell me your story.

"Let's work backwards, I am here because I care, I don't know you, but I do care, and I don't want anything bad to happen to you.

"I do think Ipswich is one of those places that if you do fall down, there will always be someone that comes to your aid."

Omar, a musician, has written a song called 'Stop', all based on the topic of men's mental health.

A spokesperson for the Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care System said: "We are working to do everything we can to encourage people to reach out for help and promote support available in Suffolk, including those affected by suicide.

"Everyone in Suffolk can play their part by talking openly about their mental health and knowing that help is available."

Emma Pell, senior lecturer in mental health nursing at the University of Suffolk said: "Mental health is something we all have, with positive mental health and wellbeing at one end, and mental illness at the other.

"Our mental health fluctuates dependent on what is happening in our lives, sometimes we can cope, and at other times we require support."

Heather Hunt, student services and safeguarding manager at Suffolk New College said: "All staff are offered a course on mental health awareness and key staff undertake mental health first aid training.

Heather Hunt from Suffolk New College

Heather Hunt from Suffolk New College - Credit: Suffolk New College

"The college recently introduced a new role to our student support team, and early help mental health officer.

"We will also be launching a series of mental health workshops, this will include a series focusing specifically upon young men's mental health, recognising the barriers many young men face when talking about how they are feeling."

A Samaritans spokesperson said: "We have found that groups for men that focus on hobbies and activities can be a good way of providing mutual support and help to manage worries in a less formal way.

"Many people find it hard to speak openly or ask for help when they are struggling, but suicide is preventable and talking can be life-saving."

The 2021 statistics are to be released in September on the Samaritans website.

Signs to look out for:

  • Feeling restless and agitated
  • Being tired or lacking in energy
  • Not wanting to talk or be with people
  • Not wanting to do things they usually enjoy
  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings
  • Not replying to messages or being distant
  • Feeling tearful, angry or aggressive
  • Talking about feeling hopeless, helpless or worthless
  • A change in routine - such as sleeping or eating more or less than normal
  • Engaging in risk-taking behaviour, like gambling or violence

Situations to look out for:

  • Loss, including loss of a friend or family member
  • Relationship and family problems
  • Housing problems
  • Financial worries
  • Job-related stress
  • Bullying, abuse or neglect
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Challenging current events
  • Depression

What you can do:

  • Show you care
  • Have patience
  • Use open questions
  • Say it back
  • Have courage

Contact Suffolk Mind by calling 0300 111 6000 or visit https://www.suffolkmind.org.uk/support-for-you/

If you or someone you know is in mental health crisis, and requires serious or life-threatening emergency mental or physical care, call 999.

If you are going through anything or have been affected by suicide, then call Samaritans for free, 24/7, 365 days a year on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org or visit www.samaritans.org