"Making yourself vulnerable is not easy, especially when you grow up in a culture where men have to be strong." 24-year-old Ivo is one of the many men living in Belgium who didn't know where to turn when going through a difficult period in his life.
In 2019, 960 people died by suicide in Flanders, almost 3 in 4 (73%) of them men. Across all age groups, the number of men who die by suicide is higher than for women. This is because men often still see it as taboo to seek help when they have dark thoughts and are facing struggles in their life.
"It is essential that we dare to talk to each other about our problems and seek support. This openness is not easy and certainly not for men," Wouter Beke, Flemish Minister of Welfare, Family, Public Health and Poverty, said.
This is why the Flemish Expertise Centre for Suicide Prevention (VLESP) has launched a new campaign named "Get out of your head," specifically targeting men. VLESP are aiming to remove the taboo of men having mental health issues and suicidal thoughts and encourage more to seek help.
Tweet translation: "No one can read minds. Check out our campaign videos and learn more about how you can work on your mental health as a man."
"Come out of your head, dare to talk about your emotions. Everyone struggles sometimes in life, we must and can be there for each other in difficult times," Beke said.
More barriers to get help
Although more women report having psychological problems (34.7% vs. 24.4% of men), the suicide rate among men is higher.
According to VLESP, this is largely because, compared to women, men appear to experience less social support and are often less socially integrated and more emotionally isolated, but are also less likely to indicate or even recognise symptoms of mental health illnesses.
The threshold for psychological assistance is often higher among men than among women, which is one of the barriers that the campaign wants to break down.
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The campaign website, created in cooperation with men and experts, includes information both for men and for their environment to assist them in finding the right kind of help, while video testimonials of other men aim to further encourage them to recognise signs and speak up.
"This campaign is an important starting point for us to encourage men to more quickly recognise and actively address mental health problems in themselves or in men around them," said Gwendolyn Portzky, director of the VLESP.
"This crucial step towards recognition, openness and social support can protect men from possible suicidal thoughts or attempts. We also hope to be able to contribute to reducing the stigma around mental health problems in men," she concluded.