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Interview: Helen Smith Talks Men on Strike

MR. DRISCOLL:  There’s a statistic in your book that I didn’t know. You write that, “In 2010, the latest suicide statistics show that 38,364 people killed themselves nationally and 30,277 of those were men.” One suicide is a man you mention in your book named Thomas Ball, whom you describe as “a man who set himself on fire on the courthouse steps because he felt jerked around by family court, was barely worth mentioning on the evening news for his dramatic ending. Ball, a fifty-eight-year-old New Hampshire man, stated that he was quote ‘done being bullied for being a man’ by the family court system.”

Which I guess leads to a two-part question: do people believe that the suicide rate is that skewed towards men, and do they give any thought as to the reason why?

DR. SMITH:  Good question.  No, I think when you hear about suicide, people think about who attempts suicide, and those people who attempt suicide are -- women tend to do that more often.  And usually, either women will get help, or they don't tend to use a lethal means.

But men tend to -- I think women do it more as a cry for help, whereas men do it sort of to end hopelessness, at least that's my -- you know, from my twenty-year experience working with men who are suicidal.  And I think it's just sort of a final thing for them.  But our society, when you actually look at the media, they always -- even on a suicide site, they'll often have a picture of a woman or they'll talk about getting women help.  But we really don't think about men.  We don't -- our society is not empathetic to men in the same sense that they're empathetic to women.

We don't help them get the mental health care that they might need.  And in addition, men won't go for mental health care.  And as a practitioner, I truly believe this is because in part -- I mean, in part, of course, it's conditioning.  Men, of course, to some degree, are conditioned to believe that they don't need any help.  They are more fearful to ask for help.  But it's with good reason.  It's because a lot of times if men do complain, they're seen as being a whiner.  And there just isn't the societal outpouring of empathy that we have for a woman who has emotional problems.

So when men are depressed, they're left on their own to solve the problem.  I think men are also reluctant to go to a mental health practitioner, the majority of whom are women.  And I've heard from so many men -- I mean, this is a bit anecdotal -- but I've heard from so many men that they'll go to a -- you know, a therapist, and they will tend to be more oriented towards women, or they won't really understand the male point of view as well.

And I think that tends to make men feel that there isn't any help available or that they would be reluctant to go.  And so yes, I think our society -- and I don't think our society sees this as important.  If men kill themselves, it's just oh, another man gone.  And we see men -- there's this feeling in our society that men are expendable.  And I think that's unfortunate, and I think that perception needs to change.