A step-by-step approach to reducing suicide among men
If you have been following any media outlet over the past year, you’ve heard about it: male suicide is a serious problem. With men accounting for up to 78% of all suicides, it is the biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK. These stark statistics had been overshadowed for much too long. It is a welcome change that society is opening up to conversation, and tackling this issue in lots of different ways – from men’s sheds, to barbers, to coalitions featuring Prince William, and many, many more. But there’s a problem.
Increased interest and awareness are not enough
Given the huge disparity between suicide rates for men and women, it is clear that men face a different set of challenges than women – challenges that the society has been undermining for a long time. Largely due to an array of well-known but toxic stereotypes about masculinity (men don’t cry, men cope on their own, men are not wimps – just to name a few) a lot of men see admitting to chronic stress, anxiety, depression, and other psychological issues as de-masculinising. But who cares? We should, as this perceived emasculation results in lower rates of men seeking medical help – or indeed seeking help of any kind. In contrast – as suggested by research (and experience) – women are much more likely to seek help on their own, or seek help by speaking to family, friends, or professionals.
In light of this, and in order to encourage men to contact and use help services when in need, the first point of contact – typically a poster or a website – must tap into more men-specific attitudes, behavioural drives, concerns and preferences.
Dealing with psychologically-informed communications on a day-to-day basis at The Hunting Dynasty, we decided to explore what constitutes the most convincing message, and what – if anything – is missing in those posters currently out there (examples above).
Our robust approach to this sensitive issue
With this in mind, we ran a study comparing four versions of a poster encouraging men to call a mental health support helpline. We focused on exploring both declared and implicit attitudes by asking men themselves what they consider encouraging and discouraging, what they pay attention to, and what is discounted, and examined which combinations of features make a poster “speak” to them.
They’re letting men down
The findings are clear – help services could be doing more to encourage men to reach out by adjusting current communications across a few dimensions.
The highlights of our findings revolved around the degree of relatability, action-orientation, and the focus of posters, which typically is verbal sharing of problems and concerns. Perhaps most importantly, the results disprove an oft-repeated stereotype that men don’t like to talk about their feelings. This is not necessarily the case: while our respondents preferred a goal-oriented, problem-solving approach to an imaginary scenario, this preference was not mutually exclusive with talking about the problems and relieving the burden. This combination is crucial for framing future messages.
We’ve found a fix
This is also supported by the results of taglines and messages found on the posters. We found that our respondents favoured a specific type of messaging, one that uses action-orientation and goal-targeted statements, as well as simple action commands. A step-by-step frame with a clear goal can be particularly effective to this end.
Finally, it is true that an image speaks a thousand words – as we found the characteristics of imagery directly link to how convincing a poster is judged to be. However, whether men can fully relate to it is another matter. There appears to be a variation in preferences towards the figure presented on the poster (typically a single, downcast man), suggesting that there exist more than one target group, differing in sensitivities and relatability. This group, characterised by younger age, is currently not accounted for. As such, there might be a second type of poster that would reach this group significantly better.
A lot of male psychology issues, such as stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts are difficult and sensitive topics; topics about which most people are not comfortable to talk. The currently popular ‘just talk’ approach fails to break this barrier. As such, in order to encourage more men to reach out for help and support, we need to re-frame current communications into a step-by-step, active approach.
Many men continue to suffer in silence – whether deterred by fear of negative stereotyping by sheer unwillingness to engage, or other factors. And whatever the reason, it’s a ‘manly’ problem which needs a manly solution; so let’s put the gender neutral approach aside, and make men – unequivocally – feel better, step-by-step.
Contact us for more information on this and other findings from our study.
If any of the topics discussed affect you or someone you care about, please call Samaritans for free any time, from any phone on 116 123
Written with consideration of Samaritans media reporting guidelines
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