Men twice as likely to commit suicide
Males, especially older ones, tend to internalise their struggles while trying to live up to a standard masculine role, say experts
The need to "be manly" could be a factor driving up the number of male suicides in Singapore and around the world.
The latest statistics show the number of male suicides in Singapore is double that of women, which mental health experts find unsurprising.
They cited various reasons, including men being more unwilling to express vulnerabilities and facing pressures from gender identity.
Suicide prevention service Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) said 239 men committed suicide in 2017, compared with 122 women. The majority of the men were 60 years old or older.
SOS senior assistant director Wong Lai Chun told The New Paper that men tend to hide their struggles, making it difficult for friends and loved ones to provide support.
She added: "Men also tend to use more lethal methods than women, which contributes to the higher number of male suicide cases."
Experts agreed that social concepts of masculinity, real or imagined, can lead men to feel a sense of helplessness.
Concepts of masculinity such as the desire to appear strong and detached from their emotions can feed alienation and a reluctance to seek help.
"Men tend to compare themselves to a standard masculine role that emphasises strength, independence and risk-taking behaviour. They feel continual pressure to solve issues on their own and to suppress feelings of distress," Ms Wong said.
Noting that men also face social pressures, she added: "There is a perception that help-seeking is associated with loss of status, damageof identity, dependence, incompetence and loss of control and autonomy, all of which are in opposition to the male standard role."
Dr Mok Yee Ming, senior consultant of the Institute of Mental Health's Department of Mood and Anxiety, said both men and women face challenges in seeking help, including social stigma.
But he added: "For men, there is the additional expectation of being 'strong' and 'manly', and not being emotional."
He cited a 2016 study that shows women were more likely to report emotional distress quickly than men.
The survey of 2,500 people showed a third of women who disclosed a mental health problem to a friend or loved one did so within a month, compared with only a quarter of men.
More than a third of men waited two years or never disclosed a mental health issue to a friend or loved one, compared with a quarter of women.
Dr Mok said American Psychiatric Association guidelines indicate that the risk of suicide from issues other than mental illness is higher than it is from mental illness.
Many of the stressors are caused by what men perceive as societal expectations of them.
Counsellor James Leong, who has worked with many men facing such challenges, said: "In the Singapore context, being a husband and father is highly lauded. This means having a career, being happily married and providing for your family not only makes you masculine but also accepted and validated by society."
He added that men who do not fit into this context might feel less masculine.
"They are the jobless, unmarried, divorced, married but unable to have children, just to name a few. This can be internalised, and can cause anxiety, depression, anger and emotional distress," Mr Leong said.
Coupled with the reluctance to appear vulnerable, this can lead to more insidious and dangerous behaviours. It is important to talk about such issues and redefine concepts of femininity and masculinity, he added.
Dr Mok said: "It should be recognised that it takes a strong person to know when to seek help, be it a man or woman."
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
Shan You Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 6741-0078
Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928
Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788