Masculine ideal of self-reliance puts men at risk: study

Still from ABC TV's Man Up series.
Still from ABC TV's Man Up series.

Men who strongly identify as self-reliant are much more likely to have thoughts about suicide and self-harm than other men, research has found.

University of Melbourne researchers conducting the world’s largest longitudinal study of men set out to discover if there was a link between traditional male values and thoughts of suicide and self-harm.

They found that out of 11 traits traditionally associated with masculinity, only one – self-reliance – was reflected in a higher incidence of suicidal thoughts.

Others, such as attitudes to work, risk-taking, power over women, emotional control, playboy-like attitudes, attitudes to violence, and status and winning, had no significant correlation.

Each year in Australia, 18.5 in every 100 000 men take their own lives – more than three times the rate for women.

Professor Jane Pirkis co-led the study with Professor Dallas English.

They study of 14 000 men aged between 18-55 is published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

It said the association with self-reliance endured even after she and her team took into account classic risk factors for suicidal thinking such as depression, stress, substance abuse and not having a partner.

“Self-reliance can be a positive thing, but when it becomes a barrier to seeking help, or results in men blaming themselves, it can make some men vulnerable to self-harm,” Professor Pirkis said.

“Our findings may go some way to explaining what mental health professionals have been encountering for years: that many men are reluctant to seek help and may respond much better to health messages that use language that emphasises taking action and taking control of your health, rather than using words like ‘help’ and ‘therapy’.”

Men were asked specific questions from the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory psychometric survey, on the extent to which they agreed with statements like, “I never ask for help” and “It bothers me when I have to ask for help”.

The analysis drew on data from Professor Pirkis’ Ten to Men longitudinal study, funded by the federal Department of Health and conducted by the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health.