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Young people’s wellbeing
Young people’s wellbeing

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3.2 The risk of suicide in young men

An explanation for the rise in the risk of suicide in young men might be found in the dislocation felt by young men at a time of rapid social change.

Features of the higher education community identified as salient include increased independence, mental health problems, drug, and alcohol misuse in the history or the life cycle of the higher education community. This community focused approach to understanding suicidal behaviour has the capacity to generate prevention strategies specific to particular communities which are ‘fit for purpose’ and which can be owned and implemented within those settings.

(Stanley et al.,2009)

Other writers have suggested a link between higher rates of suicide and the nature of young masculinity itself. According to Debbi Stanistreet:

in a culture that encourages men to obtain mastery over their environment, risk-taking behaviour may be construed as a popular operational definition of man's maleness. This type of behaviour may manifest itself in several different ways, including reckless driving, excessive drug use or, in a more overt form, commonly defined as suicide.

(Stanistreet, 1996, cited in HDA, 2001, p. 40)

This argument sees young male suicide not primarily as a response to depression but as an extreme form of adolescent risk-taking behaviour.

Another possible explanation is that young men are less likely than young women to articulate their problems. According to the Men's Health Forum, research shows ‘that men are not good at seeking help, and that male inexpressiveness leads to a reluctance in seeking medical or psychological help’ (Men's Health Forum, 2002, p. 3). Masculinity researchers such as McKenzie et al. (2018) and MacArthur (2019) have identified a culture within young men's peer groups that discourages emotional openness and shuts down the possibilities for sharing personal problems.

Shildrick et al. (2005) found evidence of an unwillingness to seek counselling or psychiatric help among the socially excluded young men they interviewed in Teesside. They cite this quotation from Max, 28, who had lost friends in a car crash:

Oh it was f*ckin’ bad. I'm glad that I'm working and that now, cos me head would be up me arse if I wasn't working like … All the s**t I've had in me life, it's my mates that have got me through it. There's a lot of people who say, have you seen a counsellor? You know with the crash. I'm like, no I don't f*ckin’ need counselling, you know what I mean?

(Shildrick et al., 2005, p. 14)