Under the Radar: Exploring experiences of suicide in Australian men not engaged with mental health services

Suicidal Emotions, Motivations and Rationales in Australian Men: A Qualitative Exploration

by Diane Macdonald, Ally Nicolopoulos and Katherine Boydell

Published 2 April 2024

What's the issue?
  • In Australia approximately 75% of all suicide deaths are men.
  • More than half of Australians who die by suicide do not receive formal mental health care or treatment before their suicide.
  • Understanding the experiences of suicide in men can help us better identify drivers of distress and suicidality and inform prevention approaches to reduce the likelihood of future attempts.
  • Traditionally, suicide research has focused on biomedical approaches examining risk factors but hasn’t explored the meanings and beliefs behind these risk factors.
What was done?

‘Under the Radar’ is a project led by Australian research body, Black Dog Institute that aims to better understand suicide in people not engaged with health care services or support services.

Researchers from Black Dog Institute led a multi-method research project to understand the experiences, thoughts and perspectives of Australian men who experienced suicidal behaviour, but had not engaged with formal mental health services.

Eligible participants were:

  • 18 years or older
  • Had experienced suicidal thoughts or behaviours in the previous 12 months
  • Were living in Australia
  • Comfortable with an interview conducted in English, and
  • Were not in contact with formal mental health services for suicidality.
Of the 415 men offered an opportunity to participate in semi-structured qualitative interviews, 37 participated. Interviews were 30-60 minutes in length. Interview participants were reimbursed AUD$170 for their time.

Qualitative analysis of the interviews used an Interpretive Phenomenological Approach (IPA), focusing on understanding people’s personal experiences and the meanings they attach to those experiences. The analysis identified the emotions, rationales, and motivations for and against suicide that occurred for men who had experienced suicidal thoughts or behaviours.
What was found?

The researchers identified 152 phrases that were compelling and shared insight into suicide emotions and rationale. This was then compiled to 18 initial themes, and further refined to 5 themes which focused on men’s emotions, rationale, motivations for suicide, motivations to stay alive, and what might have helped.

Figure 1. Emotions, motivations, rationales and what might have helped themes.
Figure 1. Emotions, motivations, rationales and what might have helped themes.

The theme of emotions was found to have consistent subthemes about men’s experience of suicidal thoughts and behaviours. Men undertook a range of complex emotional work to understand and express their distress and suicidality.

Exploring rationales for suicide, some men willingly admitted to psychological difficulties while others presented a strong front synonymous with hegemonic masculinity. The presence of failure was persistent and unacceptable to the men’s thoughts about themselves which fits with conventional constructions of masculinity. Preoccupation with negative thoughts and their inability to recognise positive aspects of their lives may hinder the willingness or ability for men to reach out for support.

Motivations for suicide were mixed. Some men felt that they had no other choice but suicide, and others felt others would be better off without them. Some men also shared that they just needed someone to talk to, others just wanted to be left alone.

Researchers noted that the men who participated in this study mostly identified as straight, older white males.

Why are the findings important?

There is a great benefit to include young people with lived and living experience in suicide prevention research to help us better understand their experiences and identify the best prevention practices and supports. Guidelines about how to do this effectively, ensure the voices and valuable contribution of young people contribute to suicide prevention in Australia.