Page published on 20th September 2023
Page last modified on 21st September 2023


To mark World Suicide Prevention Day 2023 IP Inclusive and Jonathan’s Voice held a free webinar on Male Suicide: Myths, Action and Hope. Statistics from the Samaritans website show that in 2021, 5219 people in England died by suicide, with male deaths by suicide three times higher than female. Since records began, male deaths by suicide have always been higher than female. It is said that on average 10 people are impacted by each suicide (though in reality the number may be much higher), which means in 2021 around 50,000 people in England were affected by suicide. This is such an important and yet under discussed topic. The session was led by Susie Bennett from the University of Glasgow’s Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory, Mark Fudge and Professor Andrew Reeves. 

Susie Bennett is conducting research into male suicide at the University of Glasgow’s Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory, under the direction of Professor Rory O’Connor. Her work is part-funded by Jonathan’s Voice; you can find out more about it at

Mark Fudge has worked as a counsellor within higher education for 20 years and previously had a career in health development.

Professor Andrew Reeves is a Professor in Counselling Professions and Mental Health and a BACP Senior Registered Counsellor/Psychotherapist.

Men and suicide

Dying by suicide clearly has a gendered aspect, so Susie wanted to understand what it is about the male experience that leaves certain men so vulnerable to such feelings of distress. She talked about the norms (by which she means external ideas that become internalised) impacting the psychology of men. In particular she has identified three clusters of norms that she views as tectonic plates in the male psyche, moving against and shaping each other. 

  1. The first cluster of norms is men’s relationships with their emotions, the idea of male emotional suppression and expression, how they regulate their pain, how they seek help. These norms affect how professionals and loved ones experience expressions of male distress because, for example, if a man presents emotional pain in a calm and understated way (as the norm has conditioned him to do) and yet we expect emotional pain to be explosive and obvious, that can mean male pain is misread, misdiagnosed and dismissed. 
  2. The second cluster of norms is around how men think and feel about themselves. Susie has been struck in her research by how strongly men feel about success and failure, with perceived failure in relationships or career leading them to feel a complete failure of personhood. She has found that masking this internal experience of failure and loneliness with an external presentation of coping and happiness can lead to a frightening gap emerging between how they are presenting to the world and how they are feeling. 
  3. The third cluster of norms is around interpersonal connection. The ideas of male emotional suppression and male successes impacts how certain men form relationships and can leave them very isolated even within relationships. 

These tectonic plates of emotions, selfhood and connection can then cause faultlines of tension in men’s lives that seem to be shared across a wide variety of backgrounds and can elevate their risk of vulnerability to death by suicide. 


Myths and hope

So what are some of the myths around male suicide and is there any truth in them or can they be challenged?  

The first myth Susie debunked was the idea that men don’t ask for help, or that they view it as shameful to do so. She said that it was extremely powerful to hear men saying how they wouldn’t judge other men for seeking help. However, many did say they wouldn’t seek help for themselves so whilst there has been the start of a cultural shift, there is more that needs to be done. She found that a large number of men had sought help and had a negative experience, or that they couldn’t afford it. Andrew agreed that many mental health services frame their support in a way that doesn’t speak to men’s emotional language. However, peer support groups, set up by men who understand how they want to be supported and have found their own emotional language, can be highly effective and are becoming more common. 

It is also a myth that men don’t have an emotional language. Susie stated that in her research she has been perpetually overwhelmed by the level of emotional insight, vulnerability and clarity that men offer regarding their emotions when they are given space and permission to do so. Once again, the “normal” supportive space may not speak to the emotional language of men, but Susie found peer support groups such as Dudes with Dogs, which were outside, doing an activity, and not forcing one to one contact, were highly effective. Andrew also spoke about the importance of creating the right space and how changing the name of a support group from “Coping with Anxiety and Depression” to “Making a Toolkit for Success” meant the group was much more successful. In addition, men’s emotional language can look quite different to what we expect. For example, suicide is so hard and sharp to talk about, using humour makes it easier. Lightness can be the way into conversations and can help find a way out of the dark. 

The final myth discussed was that male suicide is a male problem. In fact we are all socialised by the norm clusters detailed above, and the seeds of male suicide are sown when boys are very young in our western childrearing practices. Mark talked about how we all suppress parts of our personalities in order to be accepted in our families and schools and fit in with the norm. We need a massive cultural shift to change these norms, but until then we need to raise awareness of the internalised scripts that lead to suicidal thoughts and reharness them to empower men. 



There are many myths around male suicide and around the male behaviours that can contribute to suicidal thoughts. However, the truth is that men do deal with their emotions in their own way and express themselves with their own emotional language when they are given the right space and permission to do so. We all need to look beyond the expressions of distress that we have been socialised to expect and tune in to hear the expressions of distress that are actually being given. And that means there is hope. Once we start to take action and provide men with the spaces they need and listen to the language they are speaking, instead of expecting them to fit into the services that are not working for them, hopefully they will get the help they need before they reach crisis point. And there is hope that with more research and awareness we as a society can start to challenge these myths before they become embedded and internalised. 

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