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Suicide and depression in men - warning signs, risk factors and protective factors

In 2012 a WHO report announced a shocking fact: that India accounted for the highest estimated number of suicides in the world. And of these, the ratio of male suicides to female was 2 is to 1! Men have traditionally struggled with vocalizing their thoughts and feelings, and accepting their emotional side. Some of this behaviour stems from traditional roles that masculinity constructs (boys don’t cry, men don’t talk about their feelings, real men grin and bear it, and so on).

Here are some warning signs and risk factors that can help determine if someone you know is susceptible to dark thoughts like suicide:

The warning signs

The warning signs

The warnings signs usually include a sudden or even gradual change in behaviour or adopting an entirely new pattern of behaviour. Most people who take their lives display more than one of these warning signs – either through what they say or what they do. For instance, if a person talks about being a burden to others, feeling trapped, having no reason to live or experiencing too much pain or explicitly talks about killing themselves these are all clear warning signs.

Sometimes the signs may not be verbalized. It may be via behaviour like alcohol or drug abuse or other reckless or isolating behaviour, withdrawing socially or sleeping too much or too little or anger and aggression or giving away prized possessions. People who are considering suicide also often seem depressed, disinterested, angry, irritable or anxious for no apparent reason.

The risk factors

The risk factors

Risk factors for suicide vary according to age and ethnicity – for instance Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Maharashtra have some of the highest rates of suicide – and sometimes even literacy has been linked to this. Of course, it could also be that risk factors occur in combinations.

Usually, 9 out of 10 times, suicide victims have clinical depression or a clearly diagnosable mental illness. At times they may have a substance abuse problem that leads to death. Traumatic life events also lead to depressive and suicidal behaviour but it must be noted here that this is not average response to such stress.

Other risk factors for suicide often include a family history of suicide, violence, sexual abuse, chronic illness, substance abuse or previous attempts at suicide as well. Having access to firearms or means to kill oneself can also increase the possibility of suicide.

The protective factors

The factors that can help contain or prevent suicide are often those that provide a buffer to their dark thoughts. For starters, it would help to have access to clinical interventions for conditions like substance abuse, physical or sexual abuse or wife beating etc. If you or someone you know seems to be at risk for depression and suicide the important thing is to offer support and understanding rather than hold them in contempt or be prejudiced against such mental illnesses.

A judgement free environment will improve connectivity with friends and family providing an incentive for tackling this problem rather than giving in to it. People who take such extreme steps are often helpless and see this as the only solution. Their behaviour may seem selfish but it is actually an act of desperation. So offer help and bring in experts who are skilled in conflict resolution, mental health care, interventions and therapy.

At times, there’s no single cause for suicide. It invariably occurs when the amount of stress placed on a person suffering from a mental health condition exceeds their coping mechanisms or ability. Conditions like depression, anxiety or substance abuse, when left unchecked or unattended, could increase risk for suicide. But it’s important to emphasize that most people who try to actively manage their mental health conditions can lead fulfilling lives.

If you, or someone you know, requires emergency help concerning mental health, you may call iCALL – an initiative by TISS run by trained mental health professionals on 022-25521111. You could also find a therapist here.

Further reading

Decoding your hunger. Is it physical or emotional? Take the test!

5 things our body tells us about mental health


5 things your dreams tell you about your mental health


Food and mood