From Broken Boys to Whole Men: #6 – Covert Depression, Suicide, and Breaking the Silence
July 8, 2019
Like many of us, my extended family touched by male suicide. A nephew died by suicide at 21 in 2010, when I was living in Colorado. In ministry, I have supported family members in the wake of deaths by suicide, and the overwhelming majority have been male.
Last fall, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) used Anthony Bourdain’s death to raise the topic of men and suicide, because depression in men is a silent killer.
In fact, therapist Terry Real writes that “covert depression” is the primary way depression shows up in men—not as sadness, but as rage, anger, and self-medication. Book titles like “How Can I Get Through to You?” and “I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression” focus on the main reason why male suicide is so high: SILENCE.
Men account for 70% of all suicides in the U. S., and middle-aged men like Bourdain, who was 62, have the highest rate of suicide of any group.
We raise boys not to admit to having feelings, and the male gender stereotype—emotionally detached, uninterested in feelings—accounts for why signs of distress in men are still read as weakness, and why males are less likely to seek mental health care. Add to this the relative media silence about male depression, and you begin to see how the stereotype and the silence reinforce each other.
NAMI lists common suicide risk factors to look for in the males in your life:
Depression, other mental disorders, or substance abuse disorders
Certain medical conditions
A prior suicide attempt
Family history of a mental disorder or substance abuse
Family history of suicide
Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
Having guns or other firearms in the home
Having recently been released from prison or jail
Being exposed to others' suicidal behavior, such as that of family members, peers, or celebrities
If you see these someone you care about, be bold and break the silence by asking them about it. Terry Real says, “When we minimize a man’s depression for fear of shaming him, we collude with the cultural expectations of masculinity in a terrible way. We send a message that the man who is struggling should not expect help” (I Don’t Want to Talk About It, 38-39).
A National Institutes of Health study on male suicide prevention found that men respond well to getting peer support from someone like them who’s had a similar experience. Terry Real notes how important it is to make it a manly act to seek help and talk about difficulties. We also need to restrict access to guns and other “lethal means,” and teach men how to regulate emotions.
But the bottom line is, we have to break the silence! If you or somebody you love is raising boys or is married to a man, share this message with them, please. And check out prior posts on my blog about men’s relationships, anger management, and addiction.