Middle-aged men ‘cast adrift’ between generations

An analysis of why middle-aged men have the highest suicide rate has identified diminishing life and career opportunities, and the pressures of being a provider, as sources of psychological distress, which potentially heighten the risk.

Facing up to the “failure” of unfulfilled aspirations and expectations at middle age, and deteriorating health and acknowledgement of mortality are additional stresses.

The report, Middle-Aged Men and Suicide in Ireland, launched yesterday, said that these issues are compounded by “significant new societal challenges” such as zero-hour contracts, multiple career paths, the changing role of men, and an unravelling of the more traditional pillars of society, such as religion and politics.

“This resulted in more vulnerable groups of middle-aged men, in particular, feeling that they had been cast adrift between two vastly different generations,” the report said.

Though the report focused on men aged 40-59, who have at least one other characteristic which puts them at greater risk of suicide — farmers, unemployed, rurally isolated, separated/ divorced fathers, gay, transgender, Travellers, victims of domestic abuse, members of ethnic minority groups, ex-prisoners — it found that “middle-aged men, more broadly, are increasingly at risk of marginalisation”.

“Therefore, whilst the research focus is justifiably on ‘at risk’ groups, this study’s findings are applicable to all middle-aged men.”

For many middle-aged men, isolation and loneliness have a crippling effect but the stigma associated with mental health means they often reach crisis point before seeking help.

Alcohol was highlighted as a particularly problematic ‘coping’ strategy.

The report, by Shane O’Donnell and Noel Richardson, at the National Centre for Men’s Health (NCMH), Institute of Technology Carlow, said from a policy and research perspective, there is “ a strong case for a specific and more targeted approach to mental health promotion and suicide prevention work with middle-aged men”.

Dr Richardson said the “hope or expectation for finding a magic formula that will be the panacea for addressing the higher suicide rates among middle-aged men is not realistic” given the complexity of the issue.

The report proposes more effective and gender-specific programmes, services, and resources that support the mental health and well-being of middle-aged men.

It makes recommendations on advocacy, connection, communication, education and training, and stigma reduction.

The HSE’s National Office for Suicide Prevention, which funded the report, will work with the Men’s Health Forum in Ireland in implementing the recommendations.

Since 2008, Ireland’s highest suicide rate has been among middle-aged men — a shift away from a previous pattern of higher suicide rates among younger men. Within a European context, the age-standardised suicide rate for middle-aged men in the Republic of Ireland in 2014 was 26.4 per 100,000 - just above the EU28 average of 24.8 per 100,000.

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