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    Sunday, November 19, 2023

    Men's Mental Health: Reaching Out to Save Lives

    Anthony Okon Williams

    As we approach International Men's Day on November 19th, the theme this year is "Zero Male Suicide" - aiming to raise awareness of the troublingly high rates of suicide among men.

    As a management consultant who has helped numerous men deal with mental health issues over the years, I have seen first-hand how pervasive this problem is. Men are 3 times more likely to die by suicide than women in the U.S. and 4 times more likely in the U.K, I would shy away from putting out unverifiable stats across countries in Africa. Having worked closely with many men struggling with suicidal thoughts, I can say we absolutely need to take action on this issue.

    A few key factors contribute to the high rates of male suicide. Social isolation is one - men tend to have smaller social networks and are less likely to share their problems or seek help. Risky behaviours like drug and alcohol abuse also increase suicide risk and are more common among men. Most significantly, men are reluctant to talk about mental health concerns and seek treatment due to stigma and pressures to appear strong and self-reliant.

    We need to make it clear to men and boys that mental illness is not a sign of weakness, and there is no shame in seeking help. If you are struggling, please reach out - there are many resources like mental health professionals, crisis hotlines, and support groups. As someone who has been on the front lines helping men in crisis, I can't emphasize enough how important it is to talk to someone.

    So why is male suicide such a persistent problem? Traditional masculine gender roles that encourage stoicism and self-reliance are a major factor. Men are taught to suppress emotion and not show vulnerability, making it hard to admit to depression or suicidal thoughts.

    We also need to improve men's access to mental health services and make them affordable. Organizations that provide anonymous support specifically for men can also help men feel more comfortable seeking help.

    As a black man of Nigerian descent, myself, I understand the heightened stigma in the black community around mental health issues and the powerful reluctance among black men to open up or seek help. Black men are socialized to be strong, stoic providers from a young age, making it incredibly difficult to be vulnerable. We must work actively in our community to break down these stereotypes.

    The statistics on suicide among black men are staggering - between 2001 and 2015, black men died by suicide at nearly triple the rate of black women. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for black men ages 15-24. These numbers should be a serious wake-up call for our government to take action by funding mental health outreach programs focused on the black community and re-examining how concepts of masculinity and stigma around mental illness affect black men. We cannot lose any more lives when change is possible. Outreach needs to happen on the national, state, and local levels to provide accessible, anonymous, and affordable mental health services. As someone who works with black men's mental health, I'm committed to changing attitudes and expanding life-saving resources. But government support is crucial to addressing this crisis. The time is now to come together and achieve zero suicides for black men and men of all backgrounds.

    Additionally, high rates of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness among men contribute to risk factors like substance abuse. Creating more economic opportunities and social support is crucial.

    Corporate organizations also have an important role to play in addressing the male suicide crisis. They should foster a culture where male employees feel safe opening up about mental health concerns without judgement. Leadership can set the tone by talking openly about stress, anxiety, and depression. Companies can offer confidential mental health services and train managers to detect warning signs in team members early on. Simple initiatives like mentorship programs and employee resource groups for men can also provide vital support.

    Religious institutions, too, are central pillars in many men's lives. Clergy and faith leaders can talk openly about mental health from the pulpit to reduce stigma. They can remind men that asking for help during difficult times is not a shortcoming in faith, but a sign of strength. Local congregations can provide mentoring and counselling groups specifically for men. For many, faith can provide meaning and comfort during mental health struggles. Religious communities have an opportunity to profoundly influence men's perspectives on asking for help.

    With corporate, faith-based, and government efforts combined, we can build a culture where men are encouraged to speak up when they need support. We all have a part to play in providing solutions and ending the silence around the male suicide crisis. The goal of zero suicides is possible if we work together.

    Everyone has a role to play in prevention. Check in with the men in your life and encourage them to open up and get help if needed. Educate yourself on warning signs like isolation, anger, and recklessness. Speak up to break down stereotypes about masculinity that prevent men from seeking help.

    I have lost far too many colleagues, clients and friends to suicide. With understanding, resources, and support, many of these deaths could have been prevented. This International Men’s Day let's commit to reaching out more to the men in our lives and making real progress to achieve zero male suicides.

    Anthony Okon Williams is a management consultant with over 15 years of experience working with and for Fortune 500 companies. He specializes in organizational transformation, marketing-communications strategy, and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. Anthony is passionate about men's mental health advocacy and has provided guidance for employees struggling with depression, addiction, and suicidal ideation. He aims to use his platform and expertise to remove the stigma around men asking for help and provide practical solutions for preventing male suicide. Originally from Nigeria, Anthony lives in London, UK with his wife and 3 children.

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