Blog by Prof Nav Kapur.
Suicide rates are higher in males than females across all age groups, and highest in men aged 40-54 years. The suicide rate for men in this age group is three times higher than the rate for women of the same age, and 1.5 times greater than the rate for men in other age groups.
With International Men’s Day on 19 November, GMMH’s Professor Nav Kapur, shares insights from the ‘Suicide by middle-aged men’ report into the risk factors for men in this age group, as well as opportunities for prevention. He believes that no risk is low risk, and if a man seeks help, the response from public services needs to be meaningful.
The risk factors for suicide in middle-aged men are complex and cumulative, with some originating in childhood and others associated with recent life events, such as housing problems, issues at work, and the breakdown of relationships and family problems. Our research has shown that more than half of middle-aged men who die by suicide are experiencing economic adversity, almost half are unmarried, and almost half have misused alcohol and drugs. Physical and mental health problems are also relatively common, as is recent bereavement. What this shows is that it’s very difficult to pinpoint a single reason or cause for the high rates of suicide in middle-aged men.
Despite this complexity, there are opportunities for prevention. Contrary to our expectations, most men in this age group who had died by suicide (over 90%) had sought help and been in contact with at least one service, typically their GP or mental health services, at some point. Two thirds of men had sought help in the three months prior to their death, while one third had been in contact with services in the previous week.
When help is sought, meaningful support, including access to psychological therapies, should be offered. Unfortunately, most of the men in our study who had sought help were deemed low or no risk, despite the presence of factors such as a history of alcohol or substance misuse, previous self-harm or suicidal intent. Going forward, there needs to be a greater focus on prevention, a recognition of the risk factors and their collective influence, and a more joined-up approach in health and social care services, particularly in the places these men are seen most often – primary care, mental health services, emergency departments and the criminal justice system.
For more information and toolkits on how to improve safety in mental health services, please visit: NCISH | The University of Manchester.