Male? In Your Fifties? You May Be Fucked.
I happened to come across an article on CBC.ca that caught my eye: “Suicide rates are highest for men in their 50s and we’re not sure why.” It speaks about the mysteries and possible causes of why suicide rates among men in this age group soar. That’s right. Men are taking their own lives in alarming amounts and barely anyone is talking about it. At 52, this new and unexpected health issue has me personally concerned.
There are probably many reasons why this is not an oft talked about issue: men are perceived to be strong leaders, problem solvers, and emotional stalwarts, impervious to emotional pain. While these traits are cultural and societal constructs and expectations, I also think we may just be hardwired to hide when we are wounded.
Any way you look at it, this is a serious issue. Men in my age group have a suicide rate four times higher than women. US studies show that males make up over 70% of all suicides. While we, as a society, talk much more openly about the challenges women are faced with, we tend to ignore the fact that men are faced with challenges as well. The perception is that men will retire the boys’ club, knock back a few highballs of scotch and shrug it off.
Death, divorce and desertion often leave men alone and isolated.
What is probably closer to the truth is that most men don’t have that boys’ club—particularly as we get older. Death, divorce and desertion often leave men alone and isolated. If you’ve been through a divorce and are a single man in your fifties, you don’t get asked out a lot. You don’t have the insular support group of close friends. You are left on the sidelines, perceived as someone who may be a scavenger, a threat to someone else’s marriage or career.
Fifty is an interesting and transitional time for men. We either leap to the next level of our career or we are pushed out for younger men who are fresh and full of energy. There are a few older alphas that can mentor these young bucks—and pay them a lot less than they’d be paying the guy with 25 years experience. Why throw good money at something that is quickly becoming obsolete? When you are “aged out of your career” and you are taught throughout your life that your most important quality and value is that career, you can quickly lose your identity.
Then comes the lethal trifecta: isolation, desolation and inebriation.
Because of the younger-over-older construct, men have this obsolescence pushed on them. Try getting meaningful employment in your field of expertise when you’re over fifty. You’d have an easier time nailing a cream pie to a wall. Perception, in this case, is 9/10ths of the law. Then what? The domino effect begins. There goes the nice home, the social life, the sense of self and self worth. Reigniting or finding a new career path is incredibly difficult at this age. There are not a lot of want ads for sages.
Then comes the lethal trifecta: isolation, desolation and inebriation. Despite all of the attention being paid to our emotional selves, men are still not taught or encouraged to show weakness or vulnerability. We are still expected to be strong, emotionally stable problem solvers who will find a way to be victorious. That’s a huge weight to carry, especially when you are feeling anything but strong. Like injured animals, many men will hide and quietly lick their wounds. This takes the form of self-isolation and self-medication.
…perhaps the most risky thing a man can do is stand up in a roomful of people and cry out for help.
Alcohol and depression are potentially lethal bedmates. In despair, intoxicated and alone, people can become very impulsive. This can manifest itself sexually, externally violently, or internally violently. Risk of suicide increases exponentially in people intoxicated, particularly in those dealing with psychological and emotional issues. A 2013 CAMH study showed that over 230,000 adults in Ontario seriously considered suicide. Another study in 2014 by researcher Travis Salway Hottes at the University of Toronto, showed that gay and bisexual men over the age of 30 were more likely to die of suicide than HIV-related illnesses. Alcohol and drug use can push already vulnerable people over the edge. This is something that we don’t talk about in the LGBT community—and it’s time we did.
So, what’s to be done? How do we as a culture make it safer for men in crisis to seek help? How do we collectively begin to change the attitude that men showing their emotions and vulnerability are not tantamount to being weak and emasculated? How do we instill in men that they are more than their career and bank account? Maybe we don’t. Maybe we can’t. Maybe this is the hormonal and genetic makeup of males.
I will just end with this: of all the things we achieve and accomplish in our lives, of all the challenges met and overcome, perhaps the most risky thing a man can do is stand up in a roomful of people and cry out for help.
Andrew Vail’s writing career began in Halifax when he was a child. In Grade 4, he wrote and produced his own series of comic books entitled “Freaky The Frog”, the on-going tale of a little misfit frog and his pals of the pond. Marvel Comics never came knocking but Andrew knew he loved to create and tell stories. Since then, Andrew has worked in advertising, PR and publicity; has interviewed politicians, rock stars and very interesting yet not-so-famous movers and shakers. He has published articles in a variety of local and national magazines and websites. Andrew is currently working on the project queer50.com.
, Andrew Vail
, boys' club
, Male? In Your Fifties? You May Be Fucked.
, suicide rates
, University of Toronto