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A Crisis in Modern Masculinity: Understanding the Causes of Male Suicide

International Men’s Day November 19th2014

A Crisis in Modern Masculinity: Understanding the Causes of Male Suicide

Men need new rules for survival, misplaced self-beliefs are proving lethal

The role of men is being transformed by globalised forces from economics to technology to feminism. And men are faring particularly badly in many areas of life. From homelessness to education, alcohol and drug misuse to general life expectancy, they are clearly finding it increasingly difficult to cope as they try to adapt to circumstances that are entirely unprecedented.

Male suicide at a 15 year high

As a result, male suicide rates are at a 15-year high. Every year in the UK over 4,500 men kill themselves – nearly three times as many annually as all deaths caused by road accidents*.

This hidden killer is now the single biggest cause of death in men aged 20–45 in the UK, with males accounting for 78 per cent of all suicides in this country. In contrast, female suicide rates are declining.

male stats 81-13

female stats 81-13

SOURCE: ONS, NISRA,GRO, 2013. Figures are for persons aged 15 or over. Deaths of non-residents are included in figures in the UK. Figures are for deaths registered in each calendar year.  Enquiries: [email protected]

Identifying the causes of male suicide

In order to fully understand this phenomenon, male suicide prevention charity the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) commissioned wide-ranging research about men from independent specialists, Public Knowledge.

Jane Powell, CALM’s chief executive says: “For the first time ever, we have developed a state-of-the-nation audit of a representative sample of men and women in the UK to discover what is really going on behind the UK’s crisis in modern masculinity and male suicide.”

The research aimed to test assumptions about the particular expectations and pressures that men face currently: to find out how these expectations and pressures differ between genders; to test assumptions about the expectations that women and men have of men, and to inform further research into the consequences of men not feeling able to live up to the expectations and pressures identified.

Breaking the cycle

The research finds that men and women respond differently to the pressures of modern life, relationships and employment. Whilst both men (50 per cent) and women (59 per cent) are likely to have experienced depression at some time, it is clear that around half of these men didn’t feel able to talk about their problems or ‘burden others’.

In particular, ensuring men do feel they can speak to someone about depression is paramount as there are evident connections between a number of key areas including depression, risk taking behaviour (including getting drunk and taking drugs), frustration with life and job loss.

The report suggests a cycle of depression, frustration and unhealthy behaviours develops in men which is difficult to break. Not only do males feel they cannot talk about their problems and resulting depression but astoundingly, less than one in 10 men thought that employers, government and unions were taking their specific needs into account. This is remarkable given the size of the male workforce, the higher levels of job loss reported amongst males, and the reported self-esteem that comes from employment for men.

CALM Audit graphs

 

New rules for survival

Powell emphasises: “The research underlines that so often their own worst enemies, men need new rules for survival. Outmoded, incorrect and misplaced male self-beliefs are proving lethal and the traditional strong, silent response to adversity is increasingly failing to protect men from themselves.

“Men need to talk before they hit a wall in a crisis or feel they are at the end of the road. The normality of women freely discussing their troubles is undoubtedly a factor in declining rates of female suicide and underlines the need for a gender-based strategy in suicide prevention. So far, Government and society has failed to act on this self-inflicted yet preventable slaughter of our husbands, partners, brothers and sons.”

Professor Damien Ridge, an expert in male mental health at the University of Westminster says: “CALM has pieced together for the first time the likely pressures points for male suicide UK-wide. That half of males self-report serious depression is well beyond what we might have expected given the stereotype that it is women who get depressed, not men. I am particularly concerned that men overwhelmingly think that government organisations are ignoring their needs.”

Powell adds: “Despite the fact road accidents kill two thirds fewer men every year, the budget for road safety is massive yet spending on male suicide prevention is tiny. Also, in contrast to the range support extended by State agencies to victims of crime, there is no help whatsoever provided to those that suicide leaves behind. This has to change.

“Men need help and they need it now. As a nation we must put in place both short term and long term properly funded and coordinated gender-specific response to this crisis with solutions that are replicated across the country. The CALM Helpline and CALMzones on Liverpool and London have demonstrated that, given the opportunity, men will talk about what worries them and this is the first stage in preventing suicide.

“But ultimately attitudes to suicide in society at large need to change to help men evolve their behaviour. Only then will we bring this pernicious hidden killer under control. “

* Figures from RAC Foundation

* Statistics provided by Office for National Statistics and Department for Transport. There were 6,233 suicides in the UK in 2013. 78 per cent – 4,858 – were male. Road deaths in 2013 were 1,713. This is the lowest figure since national records began in 1926 

The full audit report is available for download HERE

Appendix 1 – A Crisis in Modern Masculinity: Understanding the Causes of Male Suicide

Survey findings summary

Not dealing with depression

In total, 50 per cent of males and 59 per cent of females said they had previously suffered from depression. Some differences relating to sexual orientation are also evident and 71 per cent of gay men within the sample reported having been depressed compared to 49 per cent of heterosexual men.

Whilst females are significantly more likely to report having been depressed previously, they are more likely to have spoken to someone about being depressed (74 per cent) than males are (53 per cent). Males aged 25-34 years, who are according to sample responses more likely to have experienced depression than females, are significantly less likely to have spoken to someone about their depression (52 per cent) compared to females of the same age (83 per cent). This is also the case amongst the oldest age group (65+).

The participants’ main reasons for not talking to anyone about their depression include that they prefer to deal with the problem themselves (63 per cent), that they didn’t want to burden someone else (52 per cent) and that talking to other people wouldn’t help (35 per cent).

Males are significantly more likely to say that they prefer to deal with the problem themselves (69 per cent). They were also more likely, though not statistically more likely, to give the following responses: `I didn’t want to burden people` (56 per cent), `I’m worried what others will think of me` (27 per cent) and `I felt disconnected from the world and could not reach out` (27 per cent).

Frustration with life

More than a quarter (28 per cent) of the total sample say they feel ‘very often’ or ‘often’ frustrated with their lives. Just over a quarter of males in the survey participants (26 per cent) say they ‘very often’ or ‘often’ feel frustrated with their lives. Males are more likely to say they are ‘very often’ frustrated with their life (ten per cent of males compared to seven per cent of females) though not significantly so. However, on balance, females are more likely to say they are ‘very often’ or ‘often’ frustrated with their lives (30 per cent compared to 26 per cent of males).

In total, two-thirds of the sample (66 per cent) admitted to undertaking some sort of risk taking behaviour within the last three months. This was significantly higher amongst males than females with 73 per cent of males admitting to some sort of risky or extremely behaviour.

The data also suggests that there is a stronger connection between depression and risk taking behaviour in males than there is in females. Males who have suffered from depression are significantly more likely than females who have suffered from depression to have got drunk in the past three months, driven over the speed limit and taken drugs.

Being the breadwinner

According to the research, two-thirds of the sample (66 per cent) rate their job as ‘very important’ or ‘important’ to their self-esteem. There is very little difference in responses between males (67 per cent) and females (66 per cent). The relationship between work and self-esteem is more noticeable amongst males aged 35-44 years and 80 per cent rate their job as ‘very important’ or ‘important’ to their self-esteem, notably higher than other males and females of the same age.

Pressure to be the main breadwinner within a household is particularly pronounced amongst males. Just over two-fifths (42 per cent) feel this pressure compared to only 13 per cent of females with 81 per cent of males saying this pressure comes from `themselves`.

Just under a fifth (19 per cent of those asked) worry that if they lost their job their partner would see them as less of a man or woman. This is exaggerated amongst the male sub-set, with males significantly more likely to ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ with this statement. This is particularly true of males aged 25-34 years and 45-54 years.

Males are significantly more likely to have lost their job previously (54 per cent compared to 35 per cent of females) and to have lost their job more than once (25 per cent compared to ten per cent of females).

Confidence and relationships

Just under a third (29 per cent) of the respondents feel that a man should be emotionally strong when there’s a crisis and take practical charge in a crisis. Again, this feeling was much more pronounced amongst males with two-fifths believing a man is ‘mostly responsible’ for being emotionally strong (42 per cent) and taking practical charge (43 per cent) in a crisis compared to only 17 per cent and 16 per cent of females respectively.

Almost a third of men (32 per cent) feel they personally lack qualities and abilities that sexual or romantic partner looks for in a man.

Single men, those separated and divorced, are more likely to think they lack essential qualities and abilities suggesting their view may have been affected by their lone status or past experiences. Men aged 25-34 years are significantly more likely to feel they lack some of these qualities. Unsurprisingly there is an evident connection between a feeling of lacking qualities/abilities and depression, risk taking behaviour and frustration with life.

Those who feel they personally lack required qualities and abilities are significantly more likely to have lost their job more than once (40 per cent), be very often (72 per cent) or often (47 per cent) frustrated with their life, undertake risk taking behaviour (35 per cent) or have been depressed (42 per cent).

Whilst heterosexual males appear to be correct in their assertion that sexual/romantic partners look for a good sense of humour in a man, they seemly over-estimate the importance of physical attractiveness and financial stability/dependability as a main attribute that women look for in a man.

Interestingly, it is also evident that gay men misjudge to some extent what men are looking for in a partner. Whilst 43 per cent of gay men said they think sexual or romantic partners look for physical attractiveness in a man, only seven per cent said they actually look for this attribute.

Role models

The largest proportion of the sample (43 per cent) cannot find their role model listed amongst the options given and selected the response ‘none of the above’. To some extent this suggests that men lack male role models amongst their close family circle and male authority figures. Of those who did select a male role model, just under a third (30 per cent) selected their father with their grandfather coming second at seven per cent.

When males are asked what qualities they admire in their role model a wide variety of qualities were cited. But it is clear that the qualities most admired include care and helpfulness (15 per cent), honesty (15 per cent), decisiveness/leadership (11 per cent) and a hard working nature (11 per cent). Other qualities cited included strength, generosity, intelligence, sense of humour, reliability, loyalty and determination, amongst others.

Whilst both males and females agree that the ability to show love is the most important quality for a father to have, women are significantly more likely to select this quality (50 per cent) compared to men (34 per cent). Other qualities deemed to be the most important include being a good role model (13 per cent) and reliability (ten per cent).

Media stereotypes

Two thirds of the total sample feels that men are stereotyped in the media (66 per cent) with a slightly higher proportion of males giving the response ‘yes’ (68 per cent) compared to females (65 per cent).

Of those who think males are stereotyped in the media, more than a quarter (27 per cent) think that these stereotypes are generally negative, 15 per cent think they are generally positive, ten per cent think they are neither positive nor negative and eight per cent think they are both positive and negative.

About the survey

In order to conduct the state-of-the-nation audit of modern masculinity, a robust quantitative survey was undertaken with data collected via an online methodology. A questionnaire approximately 10 minutes in length was designed by Public Knowledge in collaboration with CALM and representatives from their Year of the Male Steering Group; Damien Ridge (University of Westminster), Steve Robertson (Leeds Metropolitan University), Martin Todd (Men’s Health Forum), Martin Seager (‎Honorary Consultant Clinical Psychologist/Adult Psychotherapist), John Barry (?), activist Glen Poole of @HelpingMen and advice from the Young Foundation.

The survey ran from Friday 25th April to Friday 2nd May 2014 and generated a total of 1,002 responses. A sample of 1,002 is considered to be robust with a margin of error of +/-3.1 per cent at the 95 per cent confidence level. Online data was collected via Public Knowledge’s in-house online panel, panelbase.net, which has over 210,000 registered members. Quotas were imposed on the data to ensure a representative sample was collected in terms of age, gender and region, and weighting was applied to adjust for minor variations.

Related issues

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article or in the comments below, are not those held by CALM or its Trustees unless stated, and liability cannot be accepted for such comments. We encourage friendly and constructive debate, but please don't share personal contact details when commenting and exercise caution when considering any advice offered by others. We don’t allow abusive, offensive or inappropriate comments or comments that could be interpreted as libellous, defamatory or commercial and we will remove these without warning as and when we find them.

19 Responses to this article

  1. The following is an email I sent to myself today, then below this is the reason for me feeling the way I do:

    After all the abuse i have lived through. After being ignored by authorities, all to hide what they missed originally. I am left in no doubt that my hell is not going to go away. I never meant to defraud my creditors, i tried to tell them what was happening. I tried to tell them, when i was back on my feet i would pay back all the monies. Apart from one dept that was forced onto me by Hollies mother. I am feeling very very low, living through the pressure of day to day struggles. Living through the torment of knowing that i have done nothing but tell the truth and still be ignored. I dont really know how i have lived this long without carrying through on what i was going to do last year. No one will ever understand what i have lived through and still try to keep my head held high. Life has not belonged to me, now for nearly fifteen years now…..i just want my life back.
    ————————————————————————————
    From the book The Unspoken Abuse by Edward Charles (ME)
    A Story of Domestic Violence: When A Wife Becomes a Feared Companion

    Stories regarding domestic violence have held a home on bookstore shelves for many decades. These tales often involve a woman who is abused and dominated by the very man who should care about her the most. Typically, these books end up being a moving tale of female survival. However, there is another sinister side to these types of stories and those involve the man being the victim while the woman is the controlling and abusive partner.

    Such is the case in the riveting autobiographical book, The Unspoken Abuse, by author Edward Charles. This book provides an insightful and powerful view into the hellish life of one abuse survivor. Edward speaks candidly about the events of his life during this traumatic phase and leaves no stone unturned in revealing the truth behind his experiences. While once thought of as taboo, the author is forthright in his approach to this topic. His sincere hope is that others will learn from his own experiences and draw inspiration from his story.

    One telling review of this book indicates, “I literally started and finished this book in one day. What this man has had to ensure is heartbreaking. It brings to light a very real issue! Women and children are not the only ones to suffer at the hands of an abuser. Very poignant and moving.”

    Edward Charles had high hopes that he had found the love of his life when he met Angie. She was going through a bad divorce at the time that they met and Edward was more than happy to lend her his full love and support. Once they moved in together with Angie’s son, it seems like nothing but calm and love awaited them. This vision was shaken one night when Angie put out a cigarette on Edward’s wrist and embarked on a bizarre and brutal course of abuse towards him. He was not only physically mistreated, but mentally abused as well. With a daughter later in the picture, he struggled harder than ever to make peace with his wife and put an end to her violent tendencies. Reaching out to the authorities seemed almost hopeless, as they had a very difficult time grasping the concept of the wife as abuser and the husband as victim. Once he had finally escaped the grasp of Angie, Edward realized that while the abuse of him had come to an end she was now going to use their daughter as a weapon.

    The author crafts a raw and real picture for the reader. While at times the abuse is difficult to read about, the perseverance and grit of Edward is inspirational. This book unmasks some of the darkest secrets in society, while at the same time providing hope for others in a similar situation. Another review of this book reveals, “I think we all know women like this, but men are ashamed. It is sad that the children suffer so much.”
    ————————————————————————————
    Even though it has taken five years of seeking justice for violent attacks on both myself and my (now) ten year old daughter. I have only just been allowed to give a victims statement to the police. Then you take into account that Derbyshire social services have allowed my daughter to live with her violent mother, is there any wonder why I feel the way I do?

    edwardcharles07 19th November 2014 at 6:18 pm
  2. Whilst I am so pleased that this organisation is doing the work it it doing, I have to say that the title of this article/study is quite insulting and leaves me disappointing.

    Did it occur to the authors that the crisis is in fact within society? A society in which men have been historically, and remain disposable. It is the social supporting structures around men which have changed.

    I would argue it is society which needs to change its philosophical misunderstandings of men – using the phrase ‘A Crisis in Modern Masculinity’ implies that the problem lays with men and infers blame – there is no crisis in masculinity and this organisation needs to be bold enough to own that.

    The onslaught of gender politics against masculinity as an oppressive force which has denied any positivism within masculinity and demanded it change is a) part of the problem and b) shockingly perpetuated here, in the very space created to challenge male suicide!

    eighteen12 6th December 2014 at 8:21 am
  3. eighteen12, it’s like you read my mind.

    cult-ure 7th January 2015 at 9:37 pm
  4. eighteen12,

    I don’t feel it’s implied that the problem lies with men. Certainly not individual men. Either way, men are not ‘masculinity’. The article seemed relatively clear in pointing out that the crisis is in the old fashioned ‘masculine’ traits which could be causing problems and in my opinion certianly are. These traits are often unhelpful and at odds with how a men sees themselves or who they want to be and the qualities that they want to have.

    ‘Masculinity’ and indeed the role of men has to evolve as the world evolves. Not changing is not really an option. One alternative to this ‘onslaught’ of gender politics is the status quo, and how would that be fair?

    LowKeyLop 9th January 2015 at 3:00 pm
  5. eighteen12, I agree with you.

    This is a particularly poor piece of work that ignores critical aspects of the debate and tellingly reflects the presumably feminist bias of the all female management team. There are two issues :

    1. The article says ““Men need to talk before they hit a wall in a crisis or feel they are at the end of the road…..”

    Actually, sisters, we men are often pretty good at talking, the problem is that the women do not want to hear it, and frankly find it a big turn off.

    We are taught that emotional expression is socially unacceptable by women who are only interested in the James Bond/Mills & Bond he-man stereotype. It is the women who are teaching their sons that ‘big boys don’t cry’ and forcing them in to the toxicity of the compete-achieve-deny-acquire ethos. Because that is what so many of them find sexually attractive.

    2. The Feminism within which the article has been written has become a tyrannical new orthodoxy that considers herself the one and only truth about gender issues, including the men about whom they obviously have a great deal to learn.

    North Tower 8th February 2015 at 9:15 pm
  6. Never mind “talking before we hit a wall,” how about “not kicking us all the sodding time?” Every time I turn on the TV I’m confronted by “This Girl Can” telling me that she “kicks balls” and I need to “deal with it.”

    Yes, I know it’s supposed to be oh-so-chuckingly-rib-ticklingly funny. Well, it isn’t.

    I find it deeply wounding that girls are constantly told that I am a legitimate target for their anger and aggression simply because I’m a man.

    I don’t go around saying that “I punch tits: deal with it,” and I can’t think of a single friend of mine, male or female, who would think it was funny, never mind make it a tagline for a national campaign.

    iamnotapunchbag 16th February 2015 at 4:47 pm
  7. When men try to talk, feminists try to shut them up.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=iARHCxAMAO0
    Stop blaming men.
    Society has betrayed men. It kicks them out of the family. It tells them they are violent rape abusers.

    It portrays the father in the home as homer Simpson.

    The solution for many men is simply “Mgtow.” ,(Men going their own way).

    Don’t take 200 paracetamol, shake the feminist lies. They call it “taking the red pill”. Like leaving the matrix, you’re not in Canada anymore. Live life for yourself.

    menarepeople2 14th April 2015 at 4:25 pm
  8. In this case I feel that men are being told why they are committing suicide rather than actually finding cold hard facts. For example, is it a crisis of masculinity that the vast majority of men are homeless (the rates are almost proportionally equal to suicide rates by gender) in western countries than women? Or is it that the state doesn’t provide a safety net designed for men. I currently hop from family to friends spare rooms whilst my ex-partner lives in the house I *still* pay for with my daughter and my ex’s other child and have to now commute to a rented office as I used to work from home. I left as my partner was abusive (not physically) and yet I am punished for it and I had to pay the legal fees to see my daughter who I adore because my ex partner felt scorned! If I had no family, what would I do? If I lost my job, what would I do? I read an article that suggested that homelessness played a significant part in the decision to commit suicide, so perhaps the surrounding issues which cause this to happen can also be attributed. Just because men don’t talk doesn’t mean they don’t want to, the issue is, who would listen? And after the willing have listened what would happen next? The resources for men in this kind of trouble are scarce and not a single politician or political party will address it due to backlash from the far-left and right wing feminist groups. Classical masculinity has no part in my life but I still feel it is pointless to tell one person about anything as it will never change anything! These rates have been like this for 50 years with the proportion for men against women rising slightly each year and we are still told the same nonsense that it is our fault for being too masculine. In fact, you could say the decline in classical masculinity and male dominated roles has increased the disparity between male and female suicide rates. Why not review suicide cases based upon circumstances rather than the number of times someone phones samaritans.

    rih053 15th April 2015 at 2:38 pm
  9. After reading a section on the MIND website about the charity’s MEAM approach and I decided to write to people. I’d recently seen the Tories’ pledge to commit £8 billion to the NHS which, along with the LibDems policy on mental health, I think is fairly arbitrary, as I’m not sure that these key points address the issues in the report. Nor do I believe talking therapies or Mindfulness therapies make a serious long term improvement to people’s lives, especially since the MQ report clearly shows there’s no research funding into mental illness or treatments for this. I think this is a serious issue since on of the leading causes of death among young people, above war, disease and traffic accidents, is actually suicide http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/subnational-health1/leading-causes-of-death/2009/leading-causes-of-death-in-england-and-wales—2009.html

    I’m not suggesting that Mindfulness and Talk therapies don’t work and aren’t helpful, but really it’s just talking, which is nothing to do with actual scientific research into mental illness and the drugs used to treat these. Information and a video about the MQ report and the gap in research for mental health can be found on the website
    http://www.joinmq.org/news-opinion/entry/new-analysis-reveals-historic-under-funding-of-uk-mental-health-research

    Labour’s recent manifesto mentions a focus on the NHS and improvement for mental health treatment in pages 20 and 33, primarily the integration and improvement of patient care alongside clinical trials and the implementation of the NICE guidelines, but this doesn’t really mention anything about research funding for mental as outlined in the MQ report.

    A response I’d received from the conservative Lord Howe about the £8 billion pledge for the NHS was that those funds would be available as and when they’d made ‘efficiency gains’ under the Five Year Forward View, which refers to services, ie talk therapy and drug treatment.

    ‘Dear Mr Learman,

    Many thanks for your email.

    I have asked my colleague in Conservative Central Office to get back to you substantively on your specific query relating to mental health provision. On your query about the £8billion, this figure is not arbitrary. It is the amount of money, expressed in real terms, which, assuming realistic levels of efficiency gains, the NHS will need by 2020/21 if it is going to meet anticipated levels of demand, taking the forecasts set out in the NHS recent Five Year Forward View. The Five Year Forward View has been accepted by my Party (and I believe by Labour and the Lib Dems also) as the right basis on which to plan for healthcare provision in the next Parliament, including mental health. You will however have noted, I am sure, the substantial additional money allocated to mental health in the Chancellor’s recent Budget statement.

    Yours sincerely

    Frederick Howe’

    I realise the parties have discussed mental health and the NHS in their campaigns, and that charity organisations have a duty to remain impartial. However, after reading MQ report about the lack of funding and then doing some research, I did find articles about there’d been a loss for drug manufacturers along with a story on the Health Secretary’s investment deal with JP Morgan and pharmaceutical companies to tackle dementia. Obviously, I understand dementia is a serious illness, but then investing in profit businesses and not investing into research for mental health seems like an imbalance.

    http://www.cityam.com/211839/jp-morgan-joins-forces-pharma-giants-lead-100m-dementia-fund

    http://www.cityam.com/210598/uk-becomes-net-importer-drugs-first-time-century-pharmaceutical-output-drops-and-patents

    Investment and progress with the NHS might lead to better services and improvement to therapies already available to people that suffer from mental illness but the current method for treating and diagnosing mental illness seems like a guessing game for GPs which further scientific research might assist.

    ed33 15th April 2015 at 9:21 pm
  10. In my personal experience, and this is only MY own opinion, speaking as a man. I don’t like talk therapies, I don’t really enjoy talking about my feelings (although I think about it and do it constantly when I can), and I don’t like talking about feeling depressed because it’s boring to listen to. I don’t like listening to other people talking about depression either, and NOT because I’m embarrassed or ashamed, but because it just seems abit pointless. I’d prefer a solution, like a holiday, or a miracle drug cure, or to play a video game vent some aggression, or preferably intimacy or love-making to make me feel better (which I think is what alot of people use to stop them feeling down – love). It seems like obvious common sense, that a good job, a good life having fun with a few friends, and some good sex from time to time, would brighten anyone’s mood no end – and after reading Alain De Botton’s book ‘Consolidations of Philosophy’, he concludes that despite our misconceptions that money and status are important, it is our friends and family who are instrumental in achieving happiness, simply because without them we’re alone. And yet, without money or work, it can sometimes be difficult to attain friends and lead a fulfilling life. I’m going to get scientific now but, I believe despite our overall good intentions to create a fair and civilised society, as a species from a evolutionary perspective, that’s not how human being (mankind or womankind?) have functioned in the past, it’s always been about survival and procreation, not about happiness and mental health. Perhaps this thought is totally wrong, or maybe women’s roles have changed and they’ve become more like men, and men somehow need to adjust and become more like women?

    ed33 15th April 2015 at 9:44 pm
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