Stowmarket musician Keith Sadler talks gender and mental health on World Suicide Prevention Day
- Credit: Gregg Brown
As new figures show the suicide rate among males remains three times higher than that of females, a Suffolk musician has called for an end to the unwritten cultural rules that force men to swallow their emotions.
Keith Sadler, of Stowmarket, has struggled with poor mental health all his life, but his condition deteriorated when he had to give up his job as a teacher in 2009 after suffering a transient ischaemic attack, or ‘mini stroke’.
The 36-year-old, who is diagnosed with chronic depression, has spoken out about his experiences to mark World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10.
In 2016, 395 men took their own life in the East of England, compared to 131 women.
Latest numbers from the Office of National Statistics show that although the average suicide rate dropped across Britain last year compared to 2015, in this region it actually went up by 6%.
Men aged 35-54 are at the highest risk of suicide.
“I think in the mid-age we are more prone to start worrying about meaning and realise our lives maybe don’t have the meaning we hoped,” Keith said. “I think with men specifically the patriarchy in our society means that men are not encouraged to talk about their feelings.
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“Even today in our supposed progressive society it is often looked down on for a guy to talk about what they are going through and also just to express anything other than the emotions that are considered masculine. So that compounds and adds to the problem.”
Explaining how his depression manifests itself, Keith said: “With me it’s very much just a feeling of complete emptiness a lot of the time, feeling like everything is meaningless and a complete lack of motivation to do anything really a lot of the time. A feeling of disconnect from everyone and everything around.”
Keith, who has chronic fatigue syndrome, criticised the disparity of esteem between mental and physical health.
“It [mental health] is seen a less valid illness,” he said. “I think something that I certainly have instilled in me is this notion that any problem in our brain we should be able to just get over it, with willpower or something.
“I think that’s quite an English thing, a stiff upper lip and all that, but one would never tell somebody with a broken leg to overcome it. It would be quite absurd and yet it’s not seen as absurd with someone with mental health problems.”
Keith said there needed to be a sea change in attitudes in order to create a society where men felt permitted to express themselves.
He added: “We need to overcome the patriarchy in our society and encourage guys to be themselves whatever that looks like. I think being true to yourself is the most important thing you could do for your mental health, whatever that means.
“There’s the obvious things like if you are gay being gay, but then it can be much more subtle, like if you are guy who cries at certain movies, do that.
“One of the worst things for your mental health is stifling your emotions.”
Since losing his job, Keith, who lives with his wife, Anna, has focused on making music, which has given him a new purpose.
Last year he released his first album, Savour Life, which was recorded live at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket.
The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, which runs NHS mental health services in the two counties, has published its suicide prevention strategy for 2017-2022.
One of its ambitions is to “increase the availability of male specific interventions across the community”.
The trust has also appointed a new dedicated suicide prevention lead, Liz Howlett, to drive the strategy and work to reduce the number of people who take their own life.
Liz said: “I am currently working with service users and bereaved families and asking carers what extra support they need to look after someone in a crisis.
“I will also be looking at further increasing service user involvement in our own training while working closely with colleagues who are leading our men’s mental health initiative to see what we can do to combat suicide in this high-risk group.
“It is a huge project but there is a lot of energy around the trust and people are very enthused. Although success will be a very difficult thing to measure, we hope to show people that suicide is not inevitable while reducing the number of people who decide to take their own lives.”