Men make up 88 per cent of suicides in Malta and it was crucial for society to reframe its message that it was unmanly to seek help, President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca said.
Speaking during the official launch of a video ahead of World Mental Health Day, being marked on Wednesday, October 10, President Coleiro Preca stressed the importance of mental wellbeing and understanding why men were predominantly affected by suicide.
“It is important that we encourage our men and boys to seek emotional support and to speak openly about their challenges without shame,” she said during this morning’s press conference.
The video, prepared by the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society (PFWS), specifically targets men and boys who were bombarded by society’s subliminal message that men don’t cry; that to be a man they had to shoulder the family’s responsibilities and never show any sign of weakness.
According to the latest statistics presented in Parliament, the police registered 223 suicides between January 2010 and June 2018, with the majority — 194 cases — being men.
PFWS director general Ruth Farrugia said the foundation this year felt the need to address the alarming rate of male suicides in Malta through a video.
“This is an aspect of mental health that is rarely mentioned or acknowledged, but is a subject that many of us have been affected by in one way or another,” Dr Farrugia said.
“The President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society has always provided safe spaces where people from different backgrounds and life experiences can share what affects their wellbeing; mental health has always been high on our list,” she added.
Research shows that in Malta, and around the world, being a man often meant learning to suppress emotions, and Mental Health Commissioner John Cachia said society had to urgently change this perception and encourage men to seek help, especially for psychological concerns like anxiety or depression.
“Men do want to seek help, and will engage in treatment if they are given the type of help tailored to their needs. Seeking care and support should be a pathway towards empowerment rather than something shameful,” Dr Cachia said.
The one-size-fits-all approach will not work, he said, and professionals had to understand the importance of empowerment and build on strengths such as independence, fathering and camaraderie.
Data on suicides in Malta indicated that men were slipping through the cracks, Dr Cachia warned, and the focus had to be on increased awareness at an individual level, within families and across society, with early intervention, improved treatment options and a supportive environment providing a robust and reliable safety net.
“Men must be reminded that improving their mental health and well-being will help them move forward and positively impact the lives of those around them. Constructive action is about understanding how social relationships are the key to preventing mental illness,” Dr Cachia said.