Reducing the Suicide Rate Among Middle-Aged Men in Massachusetts

MassMen, Massachusetts Department of Public Health Suicide Prevention Program

Of the more than 44,000 Americans who die by suicide each year, the vast majority—79%—of those who are taking their lives are men.

Massachusetts data show that middle-aged white males are at higher risk for suicide than their female and younger male counterparts. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), between 1999 and 2013, men 25- to 64-years-old comprised 26 percent of the state’s population, but accounted for 57 percent of the suicides in Massachusetts. Also, the rate and number of suicides for working-age men has increased since 2007.

Knowing that a concerted effort needed to take place to decrease the suicide rate among this population, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) contracted with Screening for Mental Health, the leader in large-scale mental health screenings for the public, to develop a targeted, statewide suicide prevention and mental health education campaign. The campaign’s goals are increase awareness and help-seeking among men in Massachusetts, especially those in the 25-64 age group.

To develop a framework to guide suicide prevention among men, DPH convened the Men’s Suicide Prevention Advocacy Team (MSPAT) to make recommendations for meeting the needs of this population. The team consisted of men who were in the target population and people who had lost a family member, friend, or colleague in the target population to suicide. Several ideas emerged as possible solutions:

  • Reach men in a familiar environment
  • Temper the use of mental health language
  • Present ways for a person to help himself
  • Emphasize thinking and doing (rather than feeling and talking).

Taking these strategies for suicide prevention into consideration, the team developed a website, MassMen.org, designed to appeal to men in Massachusetts. The website offers men a searchable database of Massachusetts-based resources; a blog written by a Massachusetts native; helpful information on physical, mental, emotional, and relational health; and personal narratives from Massachusetts men. A critical part of the MassMen help-seeking promotion strategy includes anonymous online screenings for common issues men face. On the site, men can take a screening and receive relevant educational information and information about local resources in their area.

The goals of the program are to

  • Raise awareness for men’s physical, mental, emotional, and relational issues
  • Reduce stigma associated with mental illness
  • Encourage men to seek help
  • Increase online screenings taken by men
  • Reduce suicides in Massachusetts among the target audience.

To determine the success of the campaign, the project team monitors and documents website traffic, user engagement, screenings, and demographics.

Although Massachusetts has one of the lowest rates of suicide in the country, leaders in the DPH recognized suicide as a major public health concern and took action to combat stigma, educate and inform the public about issues specifically related to men’s mental health and suicide risk, and provide a comprehensive platform to increase early intervention through validated screenings.

Around the globe, policy makers are taking note of the unique mental health needs of working-age men and their increased risk for suicide. Australia and England have launched national men’s mental health campaigns and, in the U.S., the CDC has funded research that is looking at innovative ways to address depression and suicide risk in working age men in Michigan.

In Massachusetts and elsewhere, public health experts hope that statewide campaigns like MassMen.org will encourage and provide a model for other states and municipalities to reach out to this population.

Your Turn

  • What do you think will help reduce the suicide rate among men?
  • How would you suggest we dispel stigma and encourage men to seek help for depression?

Editor’s Note: If you are considering suicide or want to take your own life, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 9-1-1, text START to 741-741, or go to the nearest hospital emergency department immediately.

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