There are 84 sculptures standing precariously on the edges of tall buildings in London. Each one represents one of the 84 men a week who die by suicide every week. You might have seen them overhead, on TV or in recent articles about male suicide – they were striking, prevalent and rightly so. For the men themselves, the families and friends involved and campaigners who work tirelessly to raise awareness of issues behind and surrounding mental health and suicide in males and the silence and stigma that comes with that, CALM’s #Project84 gave the subject a visual platform which couldn’t be ignored.
Suicide is the leading cause of death of men under 50 in the UK and three times as many men die by suicide than women. It’s understandable that so many campaigns on suicide emphasise this fact and use these statistics to encourage men to speak out about mental health and seek treatment for it. Men are renowned for not talking about their emotions, keeping them bottled up and in turn, reaching crisis point or worse before any interventions can be made. Men have to be seen as strong, together, masculine, macho; mental health problems are seen as a weakness that they can’t, or shouldn’t let anyone see – so they stay silent. If they talk, they’re told to “Man up”.
What we don’t hear as often, if at all, are the statistics on female suicide. I do not and never have wanted to derail the conversation on male mental health and suicide and have received a huge amount of abuse for speaking about this, but the fact is that more women attempt suicide, and the number of young women dying by suicide is the highest it’s been for 20 years and on the increase. It does matter, and it’s not because I’m a feminazi who hates all men.
Here’s a thing – Project84 was launched just a few weeks after the tragic death of Claire Greaves, a young and passionate mental health campaigner and blogger, who I was honoured to have been able to call a friend. It was a heartbreaking loss to the mental heath community and beyond, and it hit me pretty hard. I have to say that when I saw those 84 representations of men who had died by suicide, I couldn’t help a part of me thinking, “What about her?”
Rather than biting my lip (as we ‘re being encouraged NOT to do this), I tweeted a side note – that female suicides, the fact that they are increasing and the fact that so many attempts are made, needs to be talked about too. Every life lost to suicide is one too many, and that includes women, even if they are fewer than men. I guess the thinking is that it’s men who stay most silent, who are more ashamed of asking for help and who are met with the most resistance when they do.
But where men are told to, or expected to ‘man up’, what are women told? Is it really easier for women to open up? And when we do, is it greeted with an understanding nod and a helping hand? Do women have it easy, or are there just as many reasons for us to keep quiet as there are for men?
I asked, and here’s a selection of genuine responses to women who have spoken about their mental health – I’ll leave them with you:
“You seriously need some HRT”
Psychiatrist told me I should have children to cure treatment resistant depression.
My CPN once told me all I needed was a good man and to join a dating agency!!!
“Men prefer girls with a bit of meat on their bones.”
I was told by doctors that it was just my hormones messing me around. 6 years later I am diagnosed with Bipolar type 2.
“You’re such a pretty girl, stop making your arms ugly.”
I was told I was over-dramatic, attention seeking, desperate for sympathy, hysterical.
“Become my girlfriend and in two weeks you’ll be healed from your depression!”
Too emotional. Highly strung. Too angry. Too feisty.
Experiences of sexism put down to “anxiety”/other MH issues.
“You’re a silly little girl.”
“Stop acting out”
I sometimes get asked if I’m on my period when I say I feel really low or anxious.
“Smile, you are a pretty girl, it can’t be that bad”
“You’re just being emotional”
I had a GP tell me I just needed to go out and get laid.
“Just get a husband and you’ll be fine!” (I’m gay)
“Are you due on?” (Period)
“Have some chocolate and paracetamol.”
“Is it that time of the month? Pathetic little girl. Cry baby. Do you think you should become a mother?”
I just hate the stereotype that because we are female, we are all open and will burst into tears at the drop of a hat. Emotional intelligence is about more than just gender.
“You can’t be schizophrenic you’ve got a husband now.”
I frequently get belittled about my anxiety by being labelled just another worrying woman or told it’s the “time of the month”. Most frequently the phrase ‘chill out’ is used. It infuriates me as if it was that easy, I’d do it but some days my anxiety is that crippling that I can’t leave the house.
“You’re being hormonal, are you due on you’re period or could you be pregnant? That’s it, perhaps your pregnant? Have you been sleeping with people? When did you last have sex?” My depressive episodes were blamed on my “hormones” for too long.
“All women are emotionally unstable.”
“You just need a boyfriend”
“Everyone has mood swings, you sure you’re not just on your period?”
“Bit of a psycho ex aren’t you?”
“You’re too pretty to have bipolar.”
“We’d all like to be thinner, but we can’t, so stop it. Enough is enough.”
Attention seeking, psycho, crazy, stalker, hypochondriac, selfish, a bitch, over dramatic, a liar, a show off, damaged goods…
Helplines and websites
Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at jo@.
Childline (0800 1111) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number won’t show up on your phone bill.
PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a voluntary organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.
Depression Alliance is a charity for people with depression. It doesn’t have a helpline, but offers a wide range of useful resources and links to other relevant information. http://www.depressionalliance.org/
Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts. Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying. http://studentsagainstdepression.org/