Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Why Gary Speed is not alone

Photo credit: Jon Candy/Wikipedia

You may wonder why it took me so long to write about Gary Speed when his tragic death was announced more than a week ago.

It’s because I found the news extremely difficult to believe and digest. Having watched him on Football Focus the day before, I couldn’t accept that this man – with a young family and at the height of his career – could be dead. The realisation that it was suicide blew my mind. This was a man who was loved by family and friends, former teammates, colleagues and football fans across the world.

But whatever was going on behind the scenes, Gary was far from alone in the struggles he faced. According to the latest suicide figures from The Samaritans, men are much more likely to take their own lives than women.

Its research shows that in 2009, 4,309 men in the UK committed suicide compared with 1,371 women. In men under 35, suicide is the second most common cause of death in England and Wales.

So why are so many promising young men choosing to end their lives?
  • Men are reluctant to talk about feelings. Some of the men in my life would literally rather die than bare their souls
  • Men often find it difficult to ask for help. They feel as though they should be able to cope with life and that asking for help would compromise their manliness
  • Because men tend to relate to each other through teasing and banter, some are afraid they will be mocked or not taken seriously
  • Young boys are often told off for crying because it isn’t manly, and men are told to ‘man up’ if they show any signs of weakness
  • Men who, like Gary, seem to be really thriving can put a lot of pressure on themselves. If something goes wrong they panic that their whole lives are about to collapse
The inability to discuss feelings and problems can lead to a distorted perspective of the situation. Rather than talk to a spouse, friend or doctor, many men bottle up their fears and constantly dwell on them. When the pressure becomes too great, ideas of suicide can creep in.

Some of the men choose to drink their problems away or escape into a world of sport or computer games – anything that helps them to suspend their fears. Others operate on a rewards system that they think will make them feel better, but actually have a very temporary effect (often followed by a deep sense of guilt).

So what can we do about this?

Avoid unhelpful and condemnatory statements. Some believe suicide is murder and a selfish act but if this is you, it’s probably best to keep these thoughts to yourself. Rather than treating the issue with disapproval or criticism we should be looking for ways to reach out, support and offer practical help.

Take good care of your friends. If you know someone who is going through a tough time, or a friend’s behaviour seems to be changing, don’t turn a blind eye. You don’t have to launch into in-depth discussions about feelings, just make yourself available, listen carefully and encourage your friend to seek professional help.

Offer hope. Whether your friend is a Christian or not, God is the answer. He wants us to live a full and fulfilling life, not one of fear and death. He is our father and friend; someone we can talk to and confide in. The Bible encourages each of us to give all of cares to God, because he cares about us (1 Peter 5:7).

Jeremiah 29:11 says: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

However great someone’s life seems, we all have problems and we all need to know that there is hope. It’s our responsibility to love and pray for the people in our lives and to point them in the right direction(s).

You can call CALM (0800 58 58 58) or The Samaritans (08457 90 90 90) if you or someone you know needs help.


  1. An informative, compassionate and practical response to a most worrying situation. Thanks Joy.

  2. Also worth adding in the list of reasons is that "men and boys" are not recognized as a distinct group with specific needs by the public sector. Mind UK say that the lack of a national mental health strategy for men is one of the countries biggest health inequalities. It isn't just the way men are - it's the way men are conditioned. When i go into schools and work with a group of young men they go from saying nothing to sharing the most personal stuff in half an hour if you create a space that where it is normal for them to do so. Unfortunately, we don't relate to men as their potential we tend to relate to me as a problem - when it comes to men and women - we tend to relate to women as having problems and men being problems - and in a society where we relate to men as problems (and not as their potential) it isn't surprising that we breed men who are unable to reach out for help. Thanks for discussing this - glen, the men's network

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with Glen that boys, young men and adult males are in need of particular attention. This I feel is sadly true for other distinct groups whose needs are not currently being met. Personally I believe that until we are willing to see our mental health the same as our physical health and discuss these topics openly throughout society we will sadly be reminded of our failures to support one another again and again. We have physical first aiders and fire officers in virtually every public, private and community environment we step into – and rightly so. However rarely do we see similar roles and resources directed to support each other with our emotional and mental wellbeing. We can develop our basic skills needed to enable people to feel confident in looking out for the signs and symptoms in others, asking simple questions to find out how someone is really feeling and supporting people in finding their own way to recovery either through self help, community or professional support. Sadly we continue to see people feeling isolated and desperate and alone, not only because of how they are feeling but also the stigma and discrimination that exists for all around mental health. Jaan