Tackling the root causes of suicide

Samaritans believes toxic messages which eat away at men’s wellbeing can be reversed.

Ruth Sutherland

The Samaritans Chief Executive writes the second of three guest blogs previewing discussions on mental health at Expo 2018.

The latest UK suicide figures show that on average just under 6,000 people take their own lives every year. Three-quarters of them are men.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 50. You can quote the statistics about suicide, but it is hard to convey the devastation with just numbers. A suicide is like a rock thrown into the water with the ripples spreading outwards, covering family, friends, soaking work colleagues, acquaintances, the wider community.

Why so many men? Again, the research, including Samaritans’ Men and Suicide report, shows how complex the issue is. In the report, men talk about relationships breaking down, separation from children, job loss, addiction, lack of close friendships, loneliness and being unable to open up. We also know that deprivation is a major factor in male suicide, increasing the odds of taking your life by 10 times, compared with the suicide risk of more affluent men.

Something called the ‘gold standard’ of masculinity puts pressure on men. It’s a persuasive little voice that whispers, ‘You’ve failed’ – unless you have gone out and secured that job, that house, that car, that woman, those children and that sunny family life.

‘You’re divorced? Don’t see your kids much now and don’t live with them? You lost your job? You can’t pay your debts, your rent, your mortgage, your bills? Your life is over, man!’

It whispers about anything that isn’t part of conventional James Bond-style masculinity: ‘You’re gay, you’re trans, you’re bi – what sort of life do you think you’re going to have? Don’t tell anyone, whatever you do.’ Feelings of failure and shame make it harder to open up because that will make things worse, won’t it?

Samaritans believes these toxic messages which eat away at men’s wellbeing can be reversed and in many places work is being done on this already. As well as Samaritans, Men in Sheds, the universities of Glasgow and Bristol, and the university of Manchester (with their research into why middle-aged men are particularly vulnerable) are all looking at why and how to help.

Many of us suffer from suicidal thoughts – 1 in 5 in fact, according to a recent NHS digital survey. Research shows that thoughts of suicide can be interrupted – for instance by talking to an organisation like Samaritans which helps people develop strategies to manage these thoughts when they intrude.

Of course, what we all want is for men to get support before they reach a crisis. Designing services to appeal to men, research into what works best – is it online, is it reaching people through sports, work, music, pubs, cabbies, betting shops? – are necessary steps to support suicide prevention.

We can make a difference and save lives. And silence the inner voice that says ‘failure’ forever.

Ruth Sutherland

Ruth was appointed Chief Executive of Samaritans in August 2015. She initially trained as a Registered General Nurse but has spent the majority of her career in public health roles, following a degree in Social Policy from the University of Warwick and a Master’s degree in Health Promotion from the University of Ulster. Ruth was the founding Director of the Community Development and Health Network, a charitable membership network committed to addressing inequalities in health and wellbeing in Northern Ireland. Prior to joining Samaritans, she was CEO of Relate and previously held senior executive leadership roles at Rethink, Alzheimer’s Society and Scope. Ruth is also Co-Chair of the National Suicide Prevention Alliance, and a volunteer at the Bexley and Dartford branch of Samaritans. She has been a Trustee of the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts since November 2015.


  1. Kevin says:

    There is equality between men and women now in almost all areas of life, and rightly so, however, one huge area is being completely ignored.
    Speaking as a middle aged man who has been through a bitter divorce, I can say without doubt, that equality does not exist for a man when he separates from a woman when it come to the children of a marriage.

    When it comes to splitting the financial assets, guess what?, yep, the starting point is a 50/50 split. However, when it comes to the most valuable asset of a relationship (the kids), no such approach exists!

    The man has to beg for time with his children and is seen as inferior simply because of his sex! The woman basically gets the children because she is female!

    Want to know why suicide is the biggest killer of middle aged men?

    It’s because when a relationship ends (for whatever reason), between a man and a woman, the man is immediately a second class citizen and has to fight for everything.

    Change is needed and fast!

  2. Sam Noble says:

    Men are constantly referred to as trash, we are made to feel like that we are worthless, it’s seems totally acceptable to call men all sorts of names based on a small proportion of men, this seems socially accepted and we are made to feel like scum, I feel like I should be ashamed to be a man

    • d uzzell says:

      Very sad but true.I worked for forty years in a traditional working class environment.With a few exceptions,most of the male staff were extremely hard working,decent human beings,not drunkards or wife beaters,or football yobs,as is often portrayed in the media or as hegemonic toxic masculinity so beloved by certain academics who deliberately sample the worst deprived areas to reinforce their patronising, superior bias against predominantly white males.Let me give you an example,it’s often stated men don’t talk of their problems because of some macho bravado it’s wrong to do so,maybe some men appear that way but why?It’s because men are often rejected and belittled by their female partner,or maybe their mother when young,and,yes,men do prefer to speak to females rather than men for the obvious reason they nurtured us.The point being,and i have seen this many times,if men are rejected they then suffer in silence and plod on without any thanks and no energy for so called bravado!

  3. Paul Gillians says:

    The most likely reason there are vastly more male suicides than female is that men have female partners and women re far more psychologically abusive than men. We see it everywhere. Why not concentrate studies on this obvious area? Is fear of feminists stopping the necessary research?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Got plenty friends and family a beautiful wife both inside and out got a son aged 2 fit well and has a great little cheeky character. So why do I feel so down and feel like there’s no hope nor future. I don’t feel like killing myself but wished I wasn’t here.

  5. Daniel Palmer says:

    I’d say the figures will have allot of people with undiagnosed mental health conditions. This country has to provide services for them. It’s a huge failure and one that continues to be ignored. I should know. 41 and still waiting for a diagnosis. There’s no help out there for me. I wonder what I have to do to get it? Poke out my eyes maybe? ?

  6. Steve Martin says:

    I honestly can’t get a straight answer, I have no one to talk to or give a sob story to I simply want the legal debt implications after I die, I don’t want help or support I’m a grown man who just wants to know what will happen after I go

  7. anonymous says:

    probably got a lot to do with senior managers,if you do your job badly, that’s not good enough but if you do your job too well that’s even worse! they will then frame you, claim some other minor excuse and make a mountain out of a molehill and leave you feeling suicidal! Ths t’s the good old NHS

  8. Anonymous says:

    I’m suicidle because of nhs system

  9. Jo Hemmingfield says:

    What a great blog! Thank you Ruth.

    I don’t want men to feel like that. It’s ok not to have all your ‘ducks in a row’ in life, whoever you are.

    Life can be really complicated and difficult at times whoever you are but things can also really change – beyond what you could imagine.

    sending love and hope


  10. Nichola Cook says:

    Fantastic and helpful. I have just been turned away from a&e with a suicidal male and told it’s his own choice. The nhs mental health need help.

    • NHS England says:

      Hi Nicola,

      I’m sorry to hear about your experience. Please speak to staff in the hospital in the first instance to raise your concerns, or contact your local patient and liaison team.

      Kind Regards
      NHS England

      • Anonymous says:

        I tried to access services in Kings Lynn just before xmas. I was feeling suicidal and waiting to catch the BUS i was given a CRISIS TEAM telephone number and told to ring it? WHICH was basically telling me to go home to my HELIUM tanks..And this is a service in special measures for a third time who still do not care may i remind you ALL.I was in so much psychic pain and distress I KNOW i would have carried it through due to my Diagnosis which they are aware of. If it wasnt for the A+E Sister who got me a bed miles away in Bristol i would have committed suicide.. THERE IS STILL NO Change toward suicide its all Propaganda smoke and mirrors because “we the ill Miss understood and stigmatisezed who suffer” AND DIE AS A RESULT of LACK OF UNDERSTANDING to a human beings distress when unwell care in the community is broken.. I have been dehumanized to the point that is my name now by deed pole.! TO PRESS THE POINT OF STIGMA to humans with mental health and those who live under this curse.

        • NHS England says:

          Hello – We are very sorry to hear of your experience, NHS England is working hard to improve services and increase access to crisis services. The NHS has a Long Term Plan to improve the care that people living with mental ill health receive in the community. We urge you to please talk about how you’re feeling, the Samaritans are also always available to talk to at any time (calls are free, any time, from any phone on 116 123.) Your GP will also be able to help.

          Please know that we are listening. No one should be dealing with mental distress and pain on their own.

          Kind Regards
          NHS England

          • Anonymous says:

            thank you But the Samaritans are no help for a person like me, with my diagnosis as im always misconstrued..I am still struggling, feelings “from the dark side morbid thoughts” are not going in fact the cycles seem to be “getting faster and with NO END”…But hey Im still “with out support of any kind”! UNABLE TO ACCESS SERVICES and Having thoughts and tendencies NO CARE Coordinator etc OSTRACIZED humiliated and blamed for things i am saying like now which ARE TRUE because IM TESTIMENT to the fact now..I hope things change soon.Because i look into the future and see things only getting worse for people like myslef and my conditions as being missunderstood and condemned for speaking up and out has left me with the name i now carry. Why because i am stigmatized at every oppertunity for bringing attention to lack of understanding by society as a whole not just services IM IN NO MANS LAND this is my country..sad but true ..SO I SPEAK UP AND OUT like now for my health and sanity.

            • Chris O'Connor says:

              I’m astonished that no mention has been made regarding the reduced suicide rates among people who have a Religious belief such as Christianity and Islam When practiced on a regular basis.
              An overwhelmingly amount of evidence suggests this.
              There is a clear “existential crisis” going on in England. Common sense can clearly see this.
              Atheism simply doesn’t offer the tool box in order to tackle some of the problems. Religion as a whole has been attacked for years in England. One cannot underestimate the importance of a community based Religion has to offer psychologically to a person.
              It’s no coincidence that South American countries with a high Religious attendance has one of the lowest suicide rates in the world!