Divorce is difficult for everyone concerned, and a whole support network exists to help cushion the blow for some of those affected. For the wife and children there are usually endless offers of support from friends, family members and dedicated organisations, but it is still the case that comparatively few organisations exist to specifically help men cope with the often immense emotional and psychological trauma of getting divorced.
In today’s society the notion that men should simply get on with it and move on, still pervades but there is now startling evidence that many divorced men really do struggle to cope with the aftermath of a divorce. ‘Big boys don’t cry’ and ‘stiff upper lip’ are traditional British sentiments which still lurk in the public consciousness. Too many men believe that they must grit their teeth and get on with things, regardless of how they really feel. As a result of resultant disconnection and loneliness they feel, and without the social acceptance of being able to ask for help, a significant number of divorced men are choosing to take their own lives.
Why are Male Suicide Rates so High?
Male suicide is a real problem and one that is shamefully underreported and misunderstood. According to the latest ONS suicide figures, in 2013 in England and Wales 5,140 people chose to end their own lives. Out of this number, a staggering 4,020, or almost 80%, of these were men, pushing male suicide numbers to a fifteen year high.
Divorce and separation have long been connected to raised risk of suicide but another recent research report by the Samaritans in 2014 has found evident “this elevated risk appears to be greater for males compared to females.” The report also found that “separated men are twice as likely as separated women to have made plans about ending their lives.” According to the study the age group most at risk were between 30 and 64.
In a guest blog for the Huffington Post, founder of the the Men After Divorce website, Kyle Morrison, says that men suffer severe trauma to their egos following a divorce. Far from being merely a self-centred and vain construct, the ego is our inner sense of self, and he reminds us that a positive self-image is absolutely crucial to our well-being.
We all measure our position and status in life by the things which surround us and the things that we have achieved and built. For many men this is the home, the family and all their associated possessions. Often it is the divorced man who finds himself having to leave the marital home, particularly when children are to remain with their mother, which is more often than not the outcome from family break-ups.
Finding themselves alone, in reduced financial circumstances and no longer surrounded by their family, far too many men find themselves wondering how to cope with feelings of grief, loss and even rage. Women are often far better at communicating their emotions and usually have a support network of friends and family to turn to. Many men however, feel reluctant to discuss their feelings with their male friends due to pervasive societal pressures and so try to bottle them up inside.
Alcohol, drugs and casual intimate relationships can often become a crutch providing instant euphoria, but failing entirely to address the deep seated problems. Worse than this, they can often lead to addictive behaviours and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness afterwards, leading to a vicious cycle of desire, depression and low self-esteem. Such behaviour is well documented and can result in men becoming completely isolated and incapable of dealing with their situation, leading to severe depression and ultimately suicidal thoughts.
Trapped by their Feelings
Alice Walton, points out that middle-aged men in particular are susceptible to feeling trapped by their own feelings, having been raised in the post-war era in a culture where to show feelings was to be unmanly. Young men today are far more likely to discuss their inner turmoil, but for a middle-aged divorced man it would seem akin to an admission of failure.
It seems that for a divorced man, the loss of his wife — often his former best friend — can be a far more harrowing experience than he suspected it ever could be. Faced with an inability to provide for a household, which is still often viewed as the ‘traditional’ male role, a man may feel that his entire purpose in life has been taken away. Perhaps taking his own life feels like a choice in which he is finally able to assert his control over his situation.
Since it is abundantly clear from the statistics that there is a significant rise in suicide rates for men following the breakdown of a relationship, then it is equally clear that more robust solutions need to be put in place to deal with the increased risk. There are no quick fixes, but steps need to be taken to make counselling, advice and practical resources more widely available for vulnerable men but what is needed most of all is a shift in attitudes.
If you are a divorced man suffering from depression and worthlessness or struggling to cope, then please don’t be afraid to approach your doctor or other medical professional for help. There are numerous support organisations offering a friendly face or voice, which will allow you to get things off your chest. They can offer valuable help and advice.
Divorce can be heartbreaking, but remember that broken hearts do mend and shattered lives really can be rebuilt. Talking it through with someone who understands should never be seen as an admission of weakness but an essential part of the healing process.
About the Author: Muna Saleem is an associate solicitor with Family Law Firm, Crisp & Co and an accredited member of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel. She practices in all areas of private family law including divorce and financial remedy applications, financial settlements, cohabitee disputes, as well as children matters such as Child Arrangement Orders and international relocation applications.