Why are 75% of suicides by men?

11 June 2020
Latest Insights From Symmetra, Symmetra


By the end of today, 12 people will have taken their lives by suicide, 75% of them will be men.

In recognition that the Covid-19 Crisis would place a significant burden on the mental health of citizens, the Australian Federal Government approved long overdue additional funding for mental health services in March.

It unfortunately needed a global crisis to fast-track support for what was fairly widely acknowledged as a protracted pandemic of a different kind – i.e. the mental health pandemic.

However, this pandemic impacts men, at a much greater rate than women.  It has been exacerbated by increasing loneliness, distributed family relationships and cyber-friendships over the last 50 years.  With the health impact of persistent loneliness being equivalent to 15 cigarettes / day, so some say it is the “new smoking”, with 1 in 4 Australians regularly feeling lonely. (Beyond Blue; Medibank)

Almost 1 in 2 Australians will experience a common mental health disorder in their life, which means 20% of us are experiencing a mental health challenge in any given year.

How does this impact business?

In today’s Knowledge Worker WorkPlace, our brain is our “tool of trade”, which means having it function at its optimal level of performance is key to results.

Having 20% of your WorkForce at any one time working at less than their optimal level, cannot possibly deliver optimal results.

Therefore, it’s not surprising, that wellbeing has become a major focus of corporates in recent years.

Companies investing in traditional wellbeing initiatives have found positive returns of 2.3x expenditure as a result of reduced absenteeism and presenteeism; employee turnover and health care costs with results augmented by increased productivity, creativity and engagement. (BeyondBlue)

How are wellbeing and inclusion connected? 

Symmetra sees a merging of inclusion and wellbeing, with some mature corporations recognising the benefits of a systemic approach to both inclusion and wellbeing, based on a foundation stone of culture and leadership.

Just as wellbeing is not just about fruit and pilates, diversity and inclusion is not just about celebrating harmony day!

Inclusion enables wellbeing in six important ways:

  1. Being able to safely speak up (Parke & Sherf)
  2. Being yourself (Emanuel et. al)
  3. Flexibility (NCBI)
  4. Self-Actualisation (APA)
  5. Mental health (Medicare)
  6. Reducing loneliness and increasing belonging (Murthy)

Whilst this confirms what we’ve long known i.e. there is a strong correlation between WorkPlace experiences and Life experiences, it doesn’t explain why men are at more risk than women.

Why are men more at risk?

Although this is changing, many men still have a strong sense of identity and self-worth emanating from their desire to self-actualise in their work and careers. Many men also spend more time at work than women and have fewer personal social connections, putting them at greater risk when things aren’t going well in their professional environment.

This can be further exacerbated for mature men, who face the additional pressure of being the family breadwinner, and view asking for help or seeking support as a sign of weakness.  Younger men face their own challenges too, largely because of their stronger social media use and resulting less meaningful social connections.

The risk factors of loneliness and feeling as if you don’t belong and can’t be yourself are magnified by the relentless pressure to appear as if it’s “business as usual”, even when things aren’t going as well as you might wish.  For anyone who has carried that burden for any period of time, you understand the weight of its impact.

How can Inclusion better support Men’s Mental Health?

Our Inclusive Leadership data shows men have lower levels of capability (as judged by other men and women), in 3 competencies which both inoculate individuals against lower levels of wellbeing and mental health, and support resilience and performance in all walks of life.

Psychological Safety supports being able to speak up, be yourself and feel as though you belong.

  • A recent study highlights those who did not feel it was necessary to stay silent about an issue or problem did not experience as much burnout as employees who reported self-silencing about problems. (Parke & Sherf)

FlexAgile WorkPlaces offering a variety of flexible work locations and options, enable a better balance of life and work relationships, reducing loneliness and increasing belongingness.

  • Flexagile Future WorkPlaces enable men to benefit from systems and structures which were originally put in place to benefit women, balancing their work and life aspirations.

Learning Mindset enables individuals to approach life’s challenges with curiosity and a desire to learn.  In a recent client analysis, we discovered “was 1 of the top 3 drivers of inclusion and belonging.

  • By believing failure is an important step in future performance, individuals are protected from the full impact of life’s inevitable disappointments and setbacks.

Creating environments and making choices 

Just as “karoshi” in Japan has remained a silent curse for too long, men’s mental health will too, if leaders don’t purposefully create an environment which enables men to speak up and speak out, asking for what they need to thrive, not just survive in life and work.

As the leadership in many organisations today is largely male dominated, men have the uncommon ability to influence the environment and culture to not just their own, but to everyone’s advantage.

What is good for men’s wellbeing is good for all genders.

Psychological Safety, FlexAgile WorkPlaces and Learning Mindsets have individually shown they have positive impacts on business performance and personal wellbeing.

During a week in which we focus on Men’s Mental Health specifically, we encourage all men to overcome their “code of silence” and take the lead in building their own capability, whilst also evolving existing professional environments to reduce the incidents and severity of the other pandemic currently influencing our lives and livelihoods.