LONELY and isolated middle-aged men in Bolton are currently calling Samaritans in higher numbers than ever — some talking about suicide.
Loss of employment and being without a supportive partner, which means they may have no one to turn to about how they feel, are thought to contribute to both the higher number of men seeking help from Samaritans and the town’s higher than average suicide rate.
In Bolton between 2008 and 2010, there were 102 suicides in the borough — 68 men aged between 20 and 59 — with deprivation, loneliness, depression and stress, relationship problems, drugs, alcohol and unemployment felt to be the cause.
Men account for 75 per cent of suicides nationally.
A new countrywide survey by Samaritans shows that one in four men who contact them talk about feeling lonely and isolated, and some even mention previous suicide attempts.
Financial difficulties among middle-aged men in particular figured prominently, caused by the recession, cuts to benefits and the so-called “bedroom tax”.
But Samaritans feels that talking could be the first step to coping. Sue McDonnell, director of Manchester and Salford Samaritans, said: “We have certainly noticed that a greater number of men have been calling Samaritans’ helplines in the past 12 months.
“Our latest poster campaign has been targeting men and stressing that there’s nothing to be ashamed of in talking about problems and I suppose it’s a sort of good news that they are contacting us.”
Samaritans’ national spokesman Guy Roberts suggested that middle-aged men often had fathers who had been in jobs for life in traditional “manly” industries like engineering and mining and passed on these expectations to their sons “as their birthright”. The decline of these types of industries meant that some men could not identify with perceived “softer” industries like retail and IT even when they could get jobs, adding to the sense of isolation.
“Women tend to share their feelings with friends and gain support that way, but men in this age-group often don’t,” said Mr Roberts.
“They won’t go to a therapist or counsellor so we need to encourage them to go into areas like exercise where there can be social-interaction, and to generally talk more to others about how they feel.”
“A lack of supportive relationships, or belief that there are no people you can turn to, are well-established risk factors for suicide.
“A growing evidence base shows that positive social connections — such as marriage or partner, family, ties to friends and neighbours and workplace ties — make people happy and healthy.Lack of social relationships constitutes a major risk factor for ill-health and mortality, comparable to cigarette smoking, blood pressure, blood lipids, obesity and physical inactivity.”
Bolton psychotherapist Josephine Cropper confirmed that Samaritans’ nationally identified trend was echoed locally in an increasing number of male clients suffering from depression and isolation contacting her. Loss of employment and a lack of a partner meant they “have no framework to fall back on” she explained.
“They need to know that it’s okay to feel like they do, and that they’re not the only ones feeling that way.
“It’s a matter of letting themselves off the hook, and talking to other people — that is definitely the key.”
l To contact Samaritans anytime call 01204 521200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org