Health Policy’s Elephant in the Room: Male Suicide

CommentaryOver 20 years ago, Australian federal Member of Parliament Greg Wilton took his own life. The tragedy culminated in a series of events that highlight how poorly we deal with vulnerable men. Three weeks earlier, Wilton had been found “in a distressed state” with his children in a car in the national park, apparently rigging a hose to the exhaust. It was widely reported as an attempted murder-suicide. He spent time in psychiatric care, but with his Labor colleagues maneuvering to force him out of parliament and relentless hounding from the press, it wasn’t long before he tried again. This time he succeeded. On June 14, 2000, the 44-year-old was found dead in his car, with the exhaust hose attached. A few years earlier, Wilton had given a speech to parliament pointing out that the group most likely to commit suicide in this country were men like him—adult males struggling with marital separation. He mentioned extensive research that had emerged over previous years showing “men kill themselves due to an inability to cope with life events such as relationship breakups of the kind I myself have suffered.” In the two decades since then, that research has piled up. The case is now overwhelming that men facing relationship breakdowns should be a key target of Australia’s suicide prevention policies. There’s no way our health bureaucrats are going to let that happen. The March 2022 budget allocated $2.1 billion (US$1.5 billion) to services for women and girls and just $1 million (US$700,000) to “improve long term health outcomes” for men and boys. Isn’t that extraordinary? Somehow, females are seen as deserving of 2000 times more investment in their health than men. What a tribute to the mighty efforts of our health bureaucracy, which for decades has strenuously ignored the enormous elephant sitting in their room—namely, the ever-increasing male suicide rate is wiping out so many younger adult males. Suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged 25-44. Male vulnerability is at the heart of the problem. Look at these statistics: Men account for three in four of the lives lost to suicide. Seven of the nine people who kill themselves every day are male. Over the past ten years, males have become even more at risk. The male suicide rate is twice the annual road toll. Seven of the nine people who kill themselves every day are male (GoranH/Pixabay). This is a hugely important health issue—yet there’s a very good reason why our politicians and bureaucrats don’t want to go there. As Greg Wilton pointed out, the evidence is piling up that a key reason many of these young men are at risk is they are casualties of family breakups. The consequent minefield that hits these men, who are frequently fathers, often proves unbearable. Most face some combination of stressful legal battles, false accusations, crippling child support payments, financial ruin and most importantly, the loss of their children. Two years before Wilton’s death, research from the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention at Griffith University found relationship breakdown to be the main trigger for suicide, with male risk four times that of females. According to the researchers Chris Cantor and Pierre Baume, men are most vulnerable in the period immediately after separation—with separation from children a major source of their despair. That’s a red flag, crying out for suicide prevention intervention. Just think what usually happens when we discover one of these trigger points, like mothers at risk of suicide due to post-partum depression. When that first made the news, support groups got to work, government funding started pouring in, and now prevention programs are everywhere. Yet, for the last two decades, there has been absolutely no government funding to follow up  Cantor and Baume’s work on vulnerable divorcing men, even though recent Griffith University research still shows relationship difficulties to be the major triggering life event, accounting for 42.5 percent of all suicides (pdf). But this key issue never features in the public narrative. Instead, we are presented with carefully constructed red herrings. The  2016 ABC television program, Man Up, spent three episodes claiming we need to teach suicidal men to show their feelings. Hours of television about men having to learn to cry, but not a word about what they were crying about. Then they announced a mental health expert, Christine Morgan, as National Suicide Prevention Officer, and followed up with $5.6 million from mental health funding to encourage men to seek help. Just another diversion, focusing on encouraging men to rid themselves of their toxic masculinity and show their softer side. Relationship difficulties are the major root problem of all suicides in Australia. (Fizkes/Shutterstock) But the fact is that even though many suicidal men have mental health problems, our authorities are strenuously ignoring the key event which

Health Policy’s Elephant in the Room: Male Suicide

Commentary

Over 20 years ago, Australian federal Member of Parliament Greg Wilton took his own life. The tragedy culminated in a series of events that highlight how poorly we deal with vulnerable men.

Three weeks earlier, Wilton had been found “in a distressed state” with his children in a car in the national park, apparently rigging a hose to the exhaust. It was widely reported as an attempted murder-suicide.

He spent time in psychiatric care, but with his Labor colleagues maneuvering to force him out of parliament and relentless hounding from the press, it wasn’t long before he tried again. This time he succeeded. On June 14, 2000, the 44-year-old was found dead in his car, with the exhaust hose attached.

A few years earlier, Wilton had given a speech to parliament pointing out that the group most likely to commit suicide in this country were men like him—adult males struggling with marital separation. He mentioned extensive research that had emerged over previous years showing “men kill themselves due to an inability to cope with life events such as relationship breakups of the kind I myself have suffered.”

In the two decades since then, that research has piled up. The case is now overwhelming that men facing relationship breakdowns should be a key target of Australia’s suicide prevention policies.

There’s no way our health bureaucrats are going to let that happen. The March 2022 budget allocated $2.1 billion (US$1.5 billion) to services for women and girls and just $1 million (US$700,000) to “improve long term health outcomes” for men and boys.

Isn’t that extraordinary? Somehow, females are seen as deserving of 2000 times more investment in their health than men.

What a tribute to the mighty efforts of our health bureaucracy, which for decades has strenuously ignored the enormous elephant sitting in their room—namely, the ever-increasing male suicide rate is wiping out so many younger adult males.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged 25-44. Male vulnerability is at the heart of the problem. Look at these statistics:

  • Men account for three in four of the lives lost to suicide.
  • Seven of the nine people who kill themselves every day are male.
  • Over the past ten years, males have become even more at risk.
  • The male suicide rate is twice the annual road toll.
Epoch Times Photo
Seven of the nine people who kill themselves every day are male (GoranH/Pixabay).

This is a hugely important health issue—yet there’s a very good reason why our politicians and bureaucrats don’t want to go there.

As Greg Wilton pointed out, the evidence is piling up that a key reason many of these young men are at risk is they are casualties of family breakups.

The consequent minefield that hits these men, who are frequently fathers, often proves unbearable. Most face some combination of stressful legal battles, false accusations, crippling child support payments, financial ruin and most importantly, the loss of their children.

Two years before Wilton’s death, research from the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention at Griffith University found relationship breakdown to be the main trigger for suicide, with male risk four times that of females.

According to the researchers Chris Cantor and Pierre Baume, men are most vulnerable in the period immediately after separation—with separation from children a major source of their despair.

That’s a red flag, crying out for suicide prevention intervention. Just think what usually happens when we discover one of these trigger points, like mothers at risk of suicide due to post-partum depression. When that first made the news, support groups got to work, government funding started pouring in, and now prevention programs are everywhere.

Yet, for the last two decades, there has been absolutely no government funding to follow up  Cantor and Baume’s work on vulnerable divorcing men, even though recent Griffith University research still shows relationship difficulties to be the major triggering life event, accounting for 42.5 percent of all suicides (pdf).

But this key issue never features in the public narrative. Instead, we are presented with carefully constructed red herrings. The  2016 ABC television program, Man Up, spent three episodes claiming we need to teach suicidal men to show their feelings. Hours of television about men having to learn to cry, but not a word about what they were crying about.

Then they announced a mental health expert, Christine Morgan, as National Suicide Prevention Officer, and followed up with $5.6 million from mental health funding to encourage men to seek help. Just another diversion, focusing on encouraging men to rid themselves of their toxic masculinity and show their softer side.

Epoch Times Photo
Relationship difficulties are the major root problem of all suicides in Australia. (Fizkes/Shutterstock)

But the fact is that even though many suicidal men have mental health problems, our authorities are strenuously ignoring the key event which might push them over the edge.

Given the ongoing male suicide crisis, it is a disgrace that our suicide policies are still focused primarily on women, with up to four of five beneficiaries female, according to an analysis by the Australian Men’s Health Forum.

Yet finally, there are tiny green shoots appearing midst the ongoing gloom.  In January this year, Suicide Prevention Australia, the peak body for suicide prevention organisations, announced that “it’s time to talk about male suicide prevention.”

“Of the 3,000 lives tragically lost to suicide each year, over 75 percent are men. They are our husbands and fathers, our brothers and uncles, our colleagues and friends,” wrote CEO Nieves Murray (pdf), announcing they were pushing for an “ambitious male suicide prevention strategy,” guided by “the evidence” and “addressing underlying issues that might lead men to the point of crisis,” and actually mentioning support for men in family courts.

The Morrison government announced last November that some suicide prevention funding would be targeted at-risk groups, including men but didn’t manage to get this up before the election. No doubt the health bureaucrats have no interest in rushing this one through, and who knows what would happen if a Labor/Green government gets into power.

Tackling male suicide means highlighting the way the family law system is now weaponised against men. This will attract huge resistance from the feminist mob who are so prominently featured in our media and who seem so adept at cowering politicians into inaction.

But too many people now know and care about what’s driving so many men to take their lives. The time is right for a mighty campaign to galvanise public opinion and demand real change.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.