The month of June is globally recognised as Men’s Health Month, with Men’s Health Week occurring from 13-19 June. The week is designed to provoke thought and discussion about what action needs to be taken to promote male health and is an opportunity to discuss male suicide prevention efforts.
Men are considered a priority population for suicide prevention in Australia, with male suicides making up three quarters of all suicide deaths1. The highest suicide rates are among men aged 85 and over (36.2 deaths per 100,000 population). More than half (52%) of deaths by suicide occurred in people aged 30-592.
There are many stereotypes about men having difficulty seeking help. However, approximately 50% of men who die by suicide have been in contact with mental health services prior to their death3. Tailored, targeted clinical and non-clinical interventions can increase the effectiveness of treatments and service uptake4.
Clinical psychologist, researcher and male mental health expert and advocate, Dr Zac Seidler, shares his insights about male suicide prevention activity in Australia and the Men in Mind project - one of the downstream interventions as part of The Buoy Project.
The Buoy Project is a research collaboration that addresses the evidence gap in effective suicide prevention interventions for boys and men in Australia. The project is testing seven suicide prevention interventions for boys and men in a series of randomised controlled trials. It includes:
- Upstream intervention – prevention strategies for the broader community.
- Downstream interventions – a stronger focus on the individual.
One of these downstream interventions, Men in Mind, focuses on preventing male suicide by training clinicians to work better with Men.
Tell us about the rationale behind Men in Mind?
My research focus has largely been around men’s experiences in therapy and how mental health services and systems can be restructured to better meet the needs of men. We found that time and again men often found counselling services weren’t meeting their needs (they weren’t feeling heard and also didn’t feel as though these services were ‘male friendly’). We also conducted research among clinicians who work with men, and many reported significant challenges working with men (particularly more traditionally-masculine identifying men) – many of these challenges related to adapting interventions to work with rather than against masculinity, and effectively identify and intervene in men’s suicidality. Putting all this together, and also recognising there was no accessible training out there for clinicians to help them understand masculinity and work more effectively with men, we developed Men in Mind as a world-first online training program focused on helping mental health practitioners engage and respond to men in therapy.
How does Men in Mind work with masculinity?
I’m a firm believer in not reinventing the wheel! That’s why Men in Mind mainly focuses on helping practitioners to pay more attention to their microskills in therapy – that is, the early stages that might seem trivial but can have a huge impact on helping men feel appropriately oriented to and engaged in therapy. Many men’s gender socialisation instils within them the belief that in seeking help they are somehow giving up or showing weakness – but in Men in Mind, we encourage practitioners to focus on amplifying men’s strengths in seeking help and use these strengths in their interventions with men. We also include content around the interactions between masculinity and men’s depression and suicide risk, so practitioners can hopefully feel equipped to better identify and intervene in men’s distress in a way that leverages masculinity to everybody’s advantage.
How have you adapted your own clinical practice to meet the needs of men?
I think the main way I’ve done this is to try and do away with any expectations and biases around 'the way men are' that might influence the way I approach my clients. For example, rather than assuming men want practical tips and solution-focused therapy because 'men are practical' – I try to be prepared to meet men on their level. If they want practical problem solving, I’m ready for that. But on the other hand, if they just want to talk and feel heard, I’m also prepared to do that in a way that validates their experiences while acknowledging that masculine ideals undoubtedly makes many men feel uncomfortable with simply wanting to talk!
What can the mental health and suicide prevention sector do differently to advance the mental health of men?
Much of our research has shown that men’s distress and suicidality often looks a little different than our typical diagnostic models assume. So I think being prepared for men’s depression to be represented by anger and irritability instead of crying and withdrawal; being prepared to keep an eye out for subtle warning signs for suicide in men that might be missed otherwise would be hugely beneficial.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2021). Causes of death, Australia, available online at: https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/causes-death/causes-death-australia/latest-release#intentional-self-harm-suicides-key-characteristics
AIHW. (2020). Suicide & self-harm monitoring: Deaths by suicide over time. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Available at: https://www.aihw.gov.au/suicide-self-harm-monitoring/data/deaths-by-suicide-in-australia/suicide-deaths-over-time
Schaffer, A., Sinyor, M., Kurdyak, P., Vigod, S., Sareen, J., Reis, C., Green, D., Bolton, J., Rhodes, A., Grigoriadis, S., Cairney, J., & Cheung, A. (2016). Population-based analysis of health care contacts among suicide decedents: identifying opportunities for more targeted suicide prevention strategies. World psychiatry: official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 15(2), 135–145. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20321
Seidler, Z. E., Dawes, A. J., Rice, S. M., Oliffe, J. L., & Dhillon, H. M. (2016). The role of masculinity in men's help-seeking for depression: A systematic review. Clinical psychology review, 49, 106–118. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2016.09.002