Two days from now is World Suicide Prevention Day, observed every 10 September.
With one in 100 deaths globally a suicide, and the far higher number of loved ones impacted by it, suicide is undeniably a serious life-and-death matter that needs to be addressed and discussed more.
After all, it ought to be the one cause of death that stands the greatest chance of being prevented.
Unfortunately, suicide is something still considered socially taboo to talk about today, even in the most liberal of cultures. The shame and stigma attached to it remain unflinching; the devastation wrought on loved ones left behind is often debilitating.
And sadly, the men are the hardest hit!
“Yo bro, did ya know we’re in crisis mode?!”
A year ago this week, when I first mused about this difficult topic, I lamented how men (especially fathers) seemed absent in the much-needed public conversations surrounding suicide.
No doubt that evergreen stereotype has much to do with this avoidance. You know, that stereotype about men not wanting to show “weakness” (also a common stereotype associated with suicide), let alone talk about it?
Yet the irony is, most suicide attempts to date are by men!
According to SOS, 227 men committed suicide in 2010 in my country (resident population approximately 5 million), compared to 126 women. It was not much different in 2017: 239 vs 122. In more recent years, the numbers still show men leading the pack, especially among the aged.
Clearly, men here are twice as likely as women to end their lives prematurely. This is also very much in keeping with trends observed elsewhere in the world regarding male suicides.
But while commendable efforts to bring the issue of suicide more to the fore in society have accelerated these past few years, it’s not enough. We need to more closely examine existing (and future) trends that may undermine these efforts.
Specifically among men.
What trend you ask?
Men are losing friends as they age!
Men today have fewer friends as they age, become more isolated as a result, and are therefore more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts.
The fact is as we age, we men seem to be having fewer and fewer close friends.
A few structural reasons were cited:
— More are marrying later,
— More are geographically more mobile than before (pandemic notwithstanding),
— Parents are spending twice as much time with kids (crowding out other relationships like friendships), and
— Everyone’s working longer hours.
In addition, compared to previous generations, fewer are saying they have a best friend now.
I doubt this friendship recession trend in America is isolated, for I see the same here too, with the spotlight shining increasingly on the plight of lonely seniors.
Now it’s a no-brainer how and where most of us make friends throughout our lives (neighbourhoods we live in, schools we attend, workplaces, familial/social/spiritual networks/activities, etc),. But once we or those friends move on or away, the effort to stay in touch or continue to have commonalities to nourish the relationship, becomes strained and severely tested.
My experience and, I suspect, those of countless other men, bear this out.
“Lonely. I’m Mr Lonely”
As I go through different phases of my life these past 50 years, I’ve found it gets harder to maintain close friendships once paths diverge. A close friend made in say college or a workplace, might be someone who’s more a distant memory or even a stranger now, once we’ve moved on to other things.
Sure, we can all promise to stay in touch, but how many really do? And do so regularly enough for the friendship to stay afloat?
Some may say that with true friends, you can easily pick up where conversations last left off; that it’s all about the quality of a relationship, more than the intervening years you’ve been apart.
Then there’s social media too. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter supposedly help you keep up to date with the lives of others you know (and vice versa), so long as we all post actively and often.
But who are we really kidding?
Unless we take effort to consciously build in the time to “invest” in their lives, friends will eventually fade into the woodworks. And social media? Please. We all know by now those filtered, Instagrammable, OOTD images barely tell half the story of what’s really going on in others’ lives. And ours too, if we’re being brutally honest with ourselves. Can anyone’s life be summed up using merely photos of cute babies, gourmet dishes and postcard landscape settings?
So with all that said, am I a prime target for (gulp) suicide?
Question of the day!
“It ain’t over til it’s over!”
While this ominous trend seems to cast an uneasy shadow over me, and others like me, I’m hopeful all’s not yet lost.
Yes, having fewer friends now can leave many of us weak and vulnerable to loneliness in our old age, which leads to all kinds of mental and social problems. Which in turn makes the spectre of suicide loom writ large.
But I’m a firm believer of awareness as a first step onto a path of “restoration”, rather than blindly living through an ongoing friendship “recession” until it’s too late.
Plus, having completed my own social experiment last year on my friendships (or more precisely, the lack of), I’m more than convinced it’s up to me now to redress my current state of loneliness. To make the right moves (such as reconnect with old friends, forge new relationships, and dive further now into old-age-doable hobbies like reading and writing) in order to regain ground in the friendship arena for a “richer” retirement.
So don’t worry about me.
I’ve got this.
But what about you? Are you sensing this trend for yourself too?
If so, reach out to someone today, okay?
Whatever you do, just don’t isolate.
As Barbra Streisand once sang: “People who need people, are the luckiest people in the world!“