Content warning- suicide is heavily discussed in this article
Stuart Kelly was 18. A recent high school graduate. A brother, a son. Stuart was an advocate for a safer nightlife and a safer city of Sydney for everyone. Following the tragic death of his older brother, Thomas, in 2012, who died two days after being punched by a stranger whilst walking down the street in Kings Cross, Stuart made it his purpose to help tackle Australia’s violent drinking culture – an issue that had affected him so personally. However, because of his views and his bravery he was tormented and bullied. News.com.au is now reporting that this ongoing harassment over the Sydney lock-out laws is what caused Stuart to take his own life last week.
When I read about the death of Stuart Kelly, I was in shock. Because it was the second tragic death of a son in the Kelly family. Because I’ve known Stuart’s sister for ten years. And because it was the third suicide of a young male I was confronted with in six weeks.
Five weeks earlier, I was aboard a train in the city when it abruptly came to a halt between stations at a quarter to midnight. After a few minutes of confusion amongst the passengers, an ominous voice emerged through the carriages to declare there had been a fatality.
Two weeks ago, a Facebook post from my local newspaper informed me that all trains from my hometown to the city were being replaced by buses due to a fatal accident on the tracks.
And then, just last week, I scrolled through my newsfeed and read the headline that almost brought me to tears.
“The teenage brother of one-punch victim Thomas Kelly has tragically died.”
There are some topics that are often left unreported by the media. Suicide is one of them. A single suicide is not news. Often the result of depression or other mental health issues, the death is classified as unsuspicious and thus is not necessary to report. Not to mention that the unimaginable pain felt by family and friends of the deceased does not need to be heightened by intruding journalists. It is usually only the tragic suicides of people who are already in the media spotlight – people such as Stuart Kelly – that we hear about.
Suicide among young males is becoming an epidemic.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2014, the number of males aged 15-24 who took their own lives was more than double that of their female counterparts. Considering that in 2014, suicide was the leading cause of death for people aged between 15 and 44, the amount of media coverage and investigation into the issue and its causes is vastly insufficient.
I do not know the reasons behind why these men decided to take their lives and I do not want to dismiss their personal turmoils and issues by assuming that their experiences were exactly the same. But
perhaps there is a common reason why the hardships that many men are going through are not known about until it is too late.
A study into the personal reasoning behind attempted suicide in young males argues that the values of traditional masculinity deter males from speaking out about their emotions: that to have distressing and negative emotions is un-masculine and shameful, so to express these feelings would be a sign of weakness and femininity. The study says that “these attitudes emerge from a socialisation that teaches boys the importance of projecting strength and concealing emotions and pain.” It argues that
“men who endorse these more conventional norms of masculinity have greater health risks than other men.”
As a society, we are discouraging males from expressing themselves from a young age, thus invalidating their emotions in the future and setting them up for self depreciation and harm.
When we tell a guy to ‘man up’, when we tell men ‘stop being a girl’, we are telling them that their emotions are something to be ashamed of, and in turn lower the value of behaviours typically seen as ‘female’. We are telling them that they have to fix their own problems and that if they speak out about them again, they will be considered weak and less of a man.
The number of men who commit suicide is exceptionally higher than women at every age- yet the number of women who seek psychological help for disorders likely to lead to suicide is far greater than the number of men. This shows that it is even more important for men to feel comfortable to express emotion, and to be able to open up without the fear of having their image of masculinity compromised. This is evidence that society has only taught one gender that it is ok to seek help, and taught the other that it is shameful.
Although it is painful and uncomfortable to discuss, if society and the media doesn’t begin to address this issue and its causes, our sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, and friends will be left thinking that normal human emotions are demeaning and that they can’t be supported. And more lives will be lost unnecessarily.
Please, if you are feeling any kind of distress, anxiety, unanswerable sadness or simply an emotion you don’t think is right, talk to someone. To express yourself is not weak; in fact to overcome social expectations of masculinity in order to help yourself in a time of need is incredibly strong.
If reading this has caused you any distress, please make a call to Lifeline on 13 11 14. There are plenty of services available, please don’t be afraid to use them: Mensline on 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, or BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636.