Male suicide rates in Australia are shockingly high. Picture: iStock
Male suicide rates in Australia are shockingly high. Picture: iStock

The alarming truth about male suicide

TOXIC masculinity.

It sounds like the theme of a strange film where a mutant Chuck Norris emerges from a radioactive swamp to deliver a roundhouse kick to Mr T's face. Or where men thump their chests and scull beer before dragging women back to their caves by the hair.

Or a poison spreading through the waterways.

It's a phrase that suddenly seems to be everywhere - but hardly anyone knows what it's meant to mean. It got all tangled up in the #MeToo movement so people think it's about accusing men of various nefarious things.

Don't worry, there will be no mention here of that razor ad, the ad that has launched a thousand columns.

Much of the reaction to the ad-that-shall-not-be-named is the same as the reaction to toxic masculinity in general. That it somehow applies to masculinity as a whole.

That's one thing that is clear - it doesn't. "Toxic" is a verb describing a type of masculinity. A bad type.

So just as saying "albino monkey" does not imply that all monkeys are albino, "toxic masculinity" does not imply that all masculinity is toxic.

That's the simple part. It gets more complicated.

Toxic masculinity is a phrase that’s suddenly everywhere, but it sounds like the title of a film starring Chuck Norris. Picture: Jason Merritt/Getty
Toxic masculinity is a phrase that’s suddenly everywhere, but it sounds like the title of a film starring Chuck Norris. Picture: Jason Merritt/Getty

But there's a very good reason to work through exactly what toxic masculinity is - psychologists say it is a driving force behind men's suicide rates. In Australia, far more men than women take their own lives.

Six Australian men take their own lives every day, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Three times as many men as women.

And a sad mirror statistic - women are three times more likely to seek help when they need it.

Stoic men are not getting help when they feel suicidal, or for mental health disorders.

SANE Australia's chief executive Jack Heath said last year that ingrained notions of manhood mean males are more likely to try to push through, to be stoic, to forgo help.

Plenty of other research shows that clinging to "traditional" masculine ideas is damaging.

The Men's Project used the concept of a "Man Box". The sort of ideas that can restrict and trap someone. They called the bars of that box the "seven pillars of traditional manhood: self-sufficiency, toughness, physical attractiveness, rigid gender roles, heterosexuality and homophobia, hypersexuality, and aggression and control over women".

Maybe not too far from radioactive swamp creatures after all.

Toxic masculinity is about aggression towards men and women, it's about violence and abuse, and always having to pretend to be tough.

In the Men's Project study of 1000 young Australian men fortunately only around a third of them believed that they should use violence to get respect, and that men shouldn't do household chores.

About a quarter thought they should always have the final say about decisions in relationships and almost four in 10 thought they should know where their wives or girlfriends were at all times.

Men are not getting enough help when they feel suicidal or face mental health disorders. Picture: iStock
Men are not getting enough help when they feel suicidal or face mental health disorders. Picture: iStock

Study author Michael Flood, an Associate Professor at the Queensland University of Technology, said those in the "Man Box" - those who thought men should pretend to be strong no matter what - were more likely to feel depressed, hopeless or suicidal.

"This accords with a large number of other studies that have found men who endorse dominant ideals of masculinity are more likely than other men to have greater health risks and engage in poor behaviours," Assoc Prof Flood wrote.

"They are more likely to consider suicide, drink excessively, take risks at work and drive dangerously."

They are also more likely to have sexually harassed women and bullied other people.

Those who stick to a manly stereotype are more likely to commit domestic violence and to rape.

The American Psychological Association uses a range of research over decades to point out that toxic masculinity leads to sexism, violence, mental health issues, suicide, and homophobia.

They point this out not to stigmatise men (which they were accused of), but to make sure treatment and awareness campaigns around mental health can be better targeted to reluctant Mr Macho.

In a statement the APA says men are not "biologically hardwired for displaying violence or aggression" but that they "have higher rates of violence and substance use, and are more likely to die by homicide or suicide"

"Research also shows that men and boys who are taught to bury their feelings are less willing to seek help for psychological distress. As a consequence, many boys and men who need help aren't getting it," the Association concludes.

Toxic masculinity damages men and simultaneously stops them from getting help for the damage. It tells them they have to be tough, dominant, aggressive. Recognising that is hopefully the first step to convincing men to ask for help when they need it. To realise that tough-as-nails Chuck Norris has become just a joke, and Mr. T just a fool to be pitied.

Tory Shepherd is State Editor for The Adelaide Advertiser.

@ToryShepherd

If you need help call:

MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78

Lifeline on 13 11 14.



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