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  • Jonathan Isserow

Reducing Men's Suicide at UBC

Updated: Jun 17, 2023

The University of British Columbia Men's Health Research Program are hosting a variety of events as part of their 'Men's Mental Health Week'. I was fortunate to attended a panel discussion with Marv Westwood, Tim Laider, Freeman Woolnough and Elliot Gee to explore what prevents men seeking support and what resources might be available at UBC to support men and reduce suicide. It was exceptionally interesting to hear the variety of understand around the often-incompatible socialisation of men, on the one hand, and their reluctance to seek support, on the other. This can be understood as two different kinds of cultures. One has traditionally been about stoicism, strength, support and providing; the other is about vulnerability and reflection. This 'clash of cultures' is disturbingly problematic and challenging. To begin to mitigate this, the panel encouraged counsellors and therapists to meet men where they are at; to consider moving away from the 'mental' in men's mental health and to explore activity-based, rather than talking interventions. There was also some discussion about the value of screen-based and online interventions. Clearly this is a way for men to privately access support. However, it was also noted that the internet and social media might also provide material that could also ossify traditional notions of masculinity.

Marv raised the issue of abject masculinity, a term I had not heard before, as symptomatic of these clash in cultures. He describes this as the complete shame and degradation of a collapsed male. This definition suggests a collapse of something that was once erect. I wondered about the role of sex and how cultural messages of masculine sex might contribute to these traditional notions of what it might mean to be a man. It was noticeable that sex was not part of the discussion around the socialisation of men in this panel, although crucial to consider too.

Another area of discussion emerged around the use of language and the term 'committing suicide'. Clearly there is a move away from using the word 'commit' or 'committing' which is seen as stigmatising and pejorative. It is more associated with committing a crime. Instead 'death by suicide' would be more appropriate. There was also some debate around using the word 'suicide'. Some of the panelists though the word was too loaded and a better term might be 'ending life'. However, some of the audience felt that the term 'suicide' was appropriate and an alternative might be avoiding its seriousness. Everyone agreed that there needs to be sensitivity around the use of language to explore suicidal ideation with anyone and to take into account intersectional dimensions in the choice of language.

On the whole, this was a highly stimulating and well-presented meeting which included a surprisingly good breakfast. Thank you RMS for hosting such an important event! Thank you John Oliffe and John Ogrodniczuk for facilitating my visit.

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