Translator: Leonardo Silva
Reviewer: David DeRuwe Did you know that
by the end of this event, three men in the UK
will have died by suicide? I can still remember exactly where I was when my dad called me to tell me
that they’d found my uncle. He had taken his life, and it had taken three weeks
to find his body. Richard was 47. He was a doctor, super smart,
creative, autistic, he spoke new languages with ease,
he played and wrote music and he understood science and math
like no one else I knew. He was the kind of kid
you’d really hate at school, right? He saved people’s lives for a living, and yet, he decided to take his own. I’d like to take you back to 2010. I was at my new flat in Brighton,
having dinner with a friend, about to start my third year
of university, when my dad calls me to tell me
that they’d found my uncle. That feeling, that sinking feeling in your stomach
when your heart drops all the way down, and all you can think is, “What could I have done
to stop that from happening?” that feeling is not something
I wish anyone ever has to experience. Men are facing a crisis. How many men do you think
die by suicide each day in the UK? Have a guess. Raise your hand
if you think it’s under five. Raise your hands. Under five? Under 10? It’s 12. That’s one man every two hours. While we’re all enjoying our day, we’re going to lose 12 men
to suicide today. In my work, we talk a lot about the fact
that 76% of all suicides are male and that this silent killer is claiming
the lives of more men under 45 than anything else. And I can’t help but find myself
asking, “Why is that?” Doesn’t that trouble you? Because it troubles me. These are our brothers, fathers,
uncles, partners, sons – these are our friends, and they decide to die. I think there are some hard questions
we need to ask about male suicide. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong
with men having suicidal thoughts, but is there something wrong with how
we react to suicide being thought about? Let me explain. We’ll all die at one point
or another, right? Our bodies will fail us,
and we’ll die of disease or old age. Or we’ll have our lives taken from us,
maybe in a tragic accident. So, isn’t it perfectly normal to consider being in control
of our own death? Yes, suicide is intentional, but does that automatically make it wrong? I believe suicide is preventable, and I believe we should do
everything in our power to prevent it, but I also believe
there’s nothing inherently wrong in thinking about our own death. I’ve considered what it’s like to die. I’d like to ask you all
to close your eyes just for a minute. I promise nothing scary will happen
if you close your eyes. Now raise your hands
if you’ve ever had a really bad day that’s left you feeling
maybe stressed or upset. Okay. Keep your eyes closed
and keep your hands raised if that bad day or bad week or bad month has ever led you
to think about harming yourself or taking your own life. Thank you; put your hands down
and then open your eyes. That was about half of this room. I invite you to consider
what might be different if we didn’t see having
suicidal thoughts as wrong, and what that might mean for the men
in our lives thinking of suicide. Let’s go back to my uncle Richard. For most of his life, he experienced
what was most likely bipolar, and he’d had suicidal thoughts
on more than one occasion. In fact, six years before his death,
he attempted to take his life. The sad fact was
that Richard lived in a time where suicide wasn’t considered
something that you spoke about. It was swept under the carpet
and a cause of shame amongst families. There was something wrong with it. I mean, it was only in 1961
that we stopped making suicide a crime. Richard’s parents were medics –
an anesthetist and a nurse – and they didn’t understand suicide either. They didn’t think that it was real, and I think they were probably in denial
about what was happening with Richard. What happened to my uncle
isn’t my grandparents’ fault. Suicide is complex and rarely
attributed to any one factor. But, when I reflect
on Richard’s experience and on how we still struggle
to speak about suicide today, nothing’s really changed. We still struggle to talk about it. We label it as abnormal or unusual, and we make men wrong
for having suicidal thoughts. We say that they’re unwell,
or that they need to get better. And because we think of it this way, it stops us from being able
to talk about it, and we stay silent instead. And suicide remains
shrouded in this stigma. That stigma is only perpetuated by irresponsible
and sensationalized journalism that happens in the cases
of celebrity suicide. Just look at some of the reporting
around Anthony Bourdain’s recent death. When I was thinking about
how best to explain this point, it made me think about
sex and sex education. Stick with me, okay? (Chuckles) It’s really uncomfortable for us
to talk to kids about sex. It’s so tempting to think if we don’t talk about it,
it won’t happen, our kids won’t have sex. But we know that teenage pregnancy
and STIs are the risks if we don’t have that conversation, and we take those risks seriously. We introduced sex education into schools, and it’s now compulsory across the UK. And, I mean, it’s far from perfect, but what it has been shown to do is to improve positive attitudes
towards safe sex, to delay sex and to reduce teenage pregnancy
when used alongside other methods. With suicide, we know it’s a myth that talking about it will plant
that idea in someone’s head. And if suicide is claiming the lives
of more men under 45 than anything else, isn’t it time we just start accepting that suicidal thoughts
are something that happen, and instead start talking openly
and responsibly about it? I don’t think there’s anything wrong
with men having suicidal thoughts. But perhaps there is something wrong
with our expectations of men in society that lead them to have those thoughts. Let’s think about that. What does it mean to be masculine? What does it mean to be a man? Society tells us men should
be strong, dependable, and able to provide for their family. There’s very little research
into the reasons why men suicide, but the recent research that does exist speaks about how men’s high suicide rates
are linked to risk factors such as history
of being abused as a child, single status or relationship breakdown, and financial difficulty or unemployment. So that means that if you’re a man
and you’ve had a troubled childhood, you’re still searching for the one
or you’re worried about money, you’re at risk of suicide! How many of us know men in that situation? I mean, I’ve definitely
just described Richard, and I’ve probably described
half of millennial men in the UK. Unsurprisingly, these risk factors are linked to those
traditional notions of masculinity, of being strong, dependable,
and able to provide for your family. It seems as though when men feel
they can’t meet those expectations, they make themselves wrong for that. The research backs this up too. Just last year, there was a paper
confirming that there is a link between men feeling unable to fulfill the stereotypical
characteristics of masculinity and suicidal thoughts. Now, I imagine a lot of us in this room
don’t agree with those stereotypes, but some of us probably do,
or at least know someone who does. How many of us have been guilty of saying
“Man up!” at some point in our lives? I know I have. The conversation is starting to change. There are great campaigns
like BBC Three’s Real Men Do Cry and CALM’s L’eau de Chris, that are trying to shift those perceptions
of men and masculinity and encourage them
to be more open and vulnerable. But is it just men who are perpetuating
these outdated stereotypes of what it means to be a man and making themselves wrong for that? I don’t think so. I’d like us to consider
what our role is as women. Just last month, I was chatting
to a female friend of mine who described the guy she was dating
as “a sponge” and “too sensitive” because he opened up to her about some of the anxieties
he was facing in the relationship and how that was
making him feel vulnerable. I cannot begin to describe
the look I see on some women’s faces when I speak about how men I know
have broken down in tears in front of me. It’s somewhere between
discomfort and disdain. Men are already making themselves wrong for not living up
to these masculine ideals of being strong, dependable,
and able to provide for their families. They’re already
shaming themselves for that. But we’re compounding the problem
by making them wrong and shaming them for demonstrating
those open and vulnerable behaviors that we say we want them to show us. And we’re making them wrong for breaking out
of these rigid stereotypes and for just being fully human. To the women in the room, I’m not saying that male suicide
is our responsibility. I absolutely acknowledge that men have a huge role to play
in breaking down these stereotypes. But as a woman, I can only speak
to my experience and how I do see our role. What I’m inviting all of us to do,
regardless of our gender, is to reconsider the expectations
that we have of men in society and reconsider how we view men who have the courage
to show us their vulnerability. I’m inviting us to ask the men
in our lives how they’re really doing and if they’re struggling with anything
they haven’t told us about. And can we think about
how we respond to that? How we might choose
to empathize with their pain? Can we hold space for men
and listen to them, without trying to fix things, tell them that we love them and that it’s okay for them
to feel however they’re feeling? I’d like to tell you
about another guy I know. He’s a really good friend of mine;
I used to work with him, actually. His name’s Billy – he’s super smart, he’s genuine, authentic, kind, generous – he’s just the kind of guy
you really want to spend time with. So, imagine how I felt when Billy called me at 11:30 a.m.
on a Friday morning, three years ago, to tell that he’d spent
the night in hospital because the night before,
he’d tried to take his own life. He was 24. You’re probably thinking I felt shocked, panicked, uncomfortable. Actually, I felt honored. I felt honored that Billy felt
that he could talk to me about his suicide attempt
and how he’d been feeling. I thought back to my uncle, and I knew that I had a chance
to respond differently to Billy. I met him with compassion
and understanding, and a safe space to talk about
how he was feeling, without judgment. I didn’t make him wrong
for feeling the way that he felt or for attempting to take his life. I didn’t try to label him as suicidal
or as someone who needed to get better. I simply gave him a space
to talk about whatever he needed to. I saw what he told me
as incredibly courageous, and not something
he should ever be ashamed of. I can’t help but wonder
if this can make a difference. When I reflect on how my response
to Billy was entirely different to the response my uncle used to receive
when he spoke about suicide, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we had different expectations
of men in society, if we had a different reaction to men who have the courage
to show us their vulnerability, and a different reaction to men
who have suicidal thoughts. Would men feel differently about suicide? I don’t have the answers, but I am inviting you
to consider the questions. Because I don’t believe there is anything
wrong with men having suicidal thoughts, but perhaps there is something wrong
with how we react to that and our expectations of men in society. So, what would happen if we all
have the courage to go home tonight and have conversations
with the men in our lives about how they’re feeling
and what they’re thinking, including their suicidal thoughts? Yeah, it’s going to be uncomfortable, I get that, but we do it with sex! Every parent dreads having
that conversation with their kids about how babies are made. But we know it’s important
to keep our kids safe, so we do it anyway,
no matter how uncomfortable we feel. I wish I could have had
a conversation with my uncle like the one I had with Billy. I wish I could have told him, “There is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with how
you’re feeling or what you’re thinking. It’s okay. I’m here to listen to whatever
you need to say or talk about because your feelings are important. You’re important, and you don’t have to do this alone.” Thank you. (Applause) (Cheers)