It’s fair to say that these days, as a society, we are much more aware of the very real risk of suicide. The statistics that men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women and that suicide is the biggest killer of men aged 20-49 show the stark reality that, for men especially, suicide can feel like the only way out of emotional pain.
For male survivors of sexual assault and abuse, that emotional pain can feel like a burden that is impossible to shift. Societal expectations and norms, in my experience, hinder this even further. The idea that men (and boys even) should be able to physically overcome an abuser and that being unable somehow undermines their masculinity can shroud them with shame. If this isn’t bad enough, that same shame can prevent them from asking for support and perhaps reporting sexual assault to authorities, leaving them alone with their pain. Then guilt comes along, sometimes because people believe they “let” themselves be abused and that they ‘should have’ reported it, sometimes because the legacy of abuse impacts their relationships with the people they love. Emotional pain in itself can feel shameful with those suffering from the lowest of moods thinking they should somehow “man up”.
Sadly, some people men speak to about sexual abuse and assault also hold these beliefs, reinforcing them even further. As a counsellor at SurvivorsUK I often find myself supporting men to question these and many other beliefs that feed their pain and feelings of worthlessness. Coupled with the feeling of being an object to be used by another for their own gratification, these lifelong ideas about how they “should” be in the world prevent them from feeling free to really “be” – vulnerable human beings who have been harmed by another and would benefit from a little compassion and support from themselves and others.
Working through suicidal thoughts can be a long and painful process, but it is doable. And, wherever those thoughts come from, they are just that – thoughts – which can pass, evolve and change. But when they are present, they can feel very real and hard to escape.
If you or someone you are supporting is having suicidal thoughts, here are a few ideas to help manage them. This list is not exhaustive (check out MIND’s website or the NHS for more ideas), and it might be that other things work that I haven’t mentioned – the golden rule is to do whatever works for you.
• Think about what you would say to a friend who was feeling the way you feel right now? How would you try to help them?
• Is there a space or place you can go where you feel safe and comforted? This could be an open space, a room or area in your home, a friend or family member’s house, a community building like a library or a place of worship, or a support service you attend.
• Is there something you can do to distract yourself from those thoughts, something that brings you comfort? This might be a creative activity, exercise, reading, watching your favourite feel-good film, playing a computer game or doing a puzzle, cooking or listening to uplifting music – perhaps whilst doing one of the above!
• Is there something else that stimulates your senses that brings you comfort? This could be looking at calming photographs or an art book, drinking a herbal tea or hot chocolate, lighting a scented candle, wearing or smelling an old favourite aftershave, finding something that feels good to hold, whether it be a soft cushion, a smooth pebble or a piece of jewellery, or listening to a recording of the sound of the sea or your favourite tune.
• Who can you call or go and visit? Even if you don’t feel able to talk about how you are feeling, let alone why, who makes you feel good about yourself?
• Are there practical steps you can take to remove the temptation to hurt yourself? For example, making sure you are not alone, removing sharp blades or large stores of medication could be helpful if the risk feels very real.
It can be helpful to talk to someone else to help you come up with your own strategies, and either write them down or create a box or pack of go-to items that offer the comfort you need or act as a prompt to seek support or do a distracting activity. And, of course, if you feel you are at risk of harming yourself, you can contact us via our online helpline, call the Samaritans on 116 123 – or call 999.
Support Counsellor, SurvivorsUK