Healthy Living in the North

Tales from the Man Cave: We men can help each other cope with life

Numbers are funny creatures – or at least the way we react to them is funny.

Take prostate cancer mortality rates, for example. Roughly 4,000 men die each year from prostate cancer in Canada. Most are well over 50 years of age and each and every case is undoubtedly a tragedy. There are walks and talks about it and the message is getting out, which is great. There is a Movember fundraising event as well as Ride for Dad and Big Blue Ball. I have many friends who are currently being treated for prostate cancer and, as far as I am concerned, we cannot do enough to raise awareness and raise funds for research to improve their chances.

But there are other statistics about men and mortality, too, and they get less attention. Some 2,700 males commit suicide every year in this country. Some estimate that this figure actually hides the true number, in part because some motor vehicle accident fatalities, for example, are probably suicides. This number has remained more or less stable throughout the past several years.

In British Columbia, suicide is one of the top three causes of mortality among men aged 15 and 44. In Canada, suicide ranked as the seventh leading cause of male death in 2007.

It’s a tragedy that is hidden and taboo. Families who have lost loved ones in this way understandably don’t want to shout it from the rooftops but as a society, we should.

Culturally, men are at a great disadvantage for depression and suicide. We are not encouraged to talk about our “feelings” and, in fact, doing so is actively discouraged. It makes the guys feel a little awkward when someone starts going on about feelings. Most feel inadequate at dealing with it. What do we hear all the time? Boys need to “man up” and “suck it up” and “stay strong.” Vulnerability will not be tolerated!

This was probably an OK strategy when it came to the need to keep the tribe strong and fearless. In survival and war, there is not much room for talking about feelings. But in our modern world, it is a hindrance to health at best and a tragedy of enormous proportions at worst. Compared to women, fewer men report feelings of depression or suicidality but more men are likely to kill themselves, though women actually make more suicide attempts. The methods that men use are more lethal, resulting in 4 times more deaths. It is, therefore, really important that we change the way we think about men and talking about our feelings.

We men pay a heavy toll for silence and society as a whole suffers much from male mental health issues. It starts very early with alienation and isolation. The use of drugs and alcohol to “cope” compounds the issue and may result in addiction, violence, absenteeism, and increased road traffic accidents, to mention just a few.

Getting help is actually a sign of strength. The Crisis Centre is a wonderful resource.

We sometimes think that we need permission to seek help and support when things are tough. If that’s you, consider this your permission. May we men enable each other to seek the help we need. May we be the shoulder that supports a friend or workmate when needed.

Stay well!

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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