Just like our female counterparts, a man’s life is filled with good times and tough times. From what I have observed, those who do well at life, learn to ride the big emotional waves during the tough times, knowing eventually that the storm will pass and be replaced by calm seas. That is until another temporary storm hits again. That is life for everyone. No one gets smooth sailing all the time.
In the past decade, I have seen three of my former tennis buddies who I played with years ago, commit suicide in their 40s and 50s. I had moved out of state for seven years and not stayed in regular contact with them but heard through others that they were struggling due to a variety of reasons. Two of the men who I was closer with had big personalities, always smiling, laughing and had a zest for life in their prime.
Moving back to California and going to their funerals a few years later, while also hearing about men my age in my community who took their lives, and seeing celebrities like Anthony Bourdain do the same, shook me to my core.
I had heard through others that as my tennis friends got older and were facing some tough challenges, they had become more isolated. I wonder if they had stayed more connected with their male friends, someone could have seen how much they were suffering and helped them to see that suicide wasn’t the answer.
Their passing really hit home for me on the importance of staying connected with my own male friends during difficult times.What I have seen personally is confirmed by research conducted by the CDC showing that since 1999, the number of suicides is up and shows no signs of slowing down. And guess what the number one group at risk is? Middle aged white men.
What is also interesting according to the CDC research, is that of all age groups who died by suicide, more than half of them had no known medical or mental health condition. What contributed to them wanting to take their lives were multiple factors such as economic hardship, relationship problems, substance use, physical health problems, recent crises and a host of other factors.
Knowing these statistics and mourning the loss of friends who died way too young, I have compiled some tips on ways men can improve upon their friendships that can help them gain more support during difficult times:
- Engage in longer conversations whenever possible. In this fast paced society, many people interact with each other in short bursts of “chit-chat” and then run off to their next task or event. They end the conversation with a “lets do lunch” shout out, yet no date is established of when they will actually meet again. Make that extra effort to really connect with those you trust and do share if you are struggling. If they are your friend, they can comfort you and perhaps provide some ideas for support that can help you through your difficult situation.
- Communicate in other ways to keep your connection going strong before signs of trouble. There are more ways to communicate today than there were 20 years ago. When I was younger, there were no cell phones, only the phones in the home or a pay phone for 25 cents. Socializing with others was done in groups or at home with parents around. Today, we can also connect with cell phones, through social media messaging, texting and Facetime. While these are great ways to connect with others, be sure to include real in-person with people you are closest to. While using technology to communicate and connect is good, there is still no substitute for in-person interaction.
- Join or be a part of organization or group. Over the past 20 years, having re-connected with friends and family, I have seen connections get stronger and people becoming happier if they are in a group or organization. While my passion has been playing tennis and socializing with the many teams, I have been a part of, I have seen male friends of mine play in bands, join exercise challenges or boot camps, engage in small church groups, etc. Meetup.com is a great way to meet up with others who have similar interests.
- Get outside. Try connecting with others in a different scenery, preferably outside in nature. Try inviting a friend to go for a walk at a park, beach or a botanical garden and have a nice conversation while enjoying the beauty and healing nature being outdoors.
- Talk about the real-life struggles. While it is nice to have quick connections with others like texting someone and asking how they are doing and getting back a thumbs up emoji, this is simply not enough in today's often negative world. We still need others we can trust and share our deepest thoughts and feelings to and vice versa --especially if there is an internal issue going on that might lead to having suicidal thoughts. After one of my tennis friend’s suicide, I found out later through other tennis friends that he was really struggling yet always had a smile on his face. If only one of us could have had a deeper conversation with him to know how much pain he was really in. Now he is gone and left behind so many people who loved him.
The key takeaway is as men, its alright to reach out to others when we are feeling weak and need extra support during tough times--we don't have to feel strong 100 percent of the time. We can pull each other up and remind one another that there is help available if thoughts turn dark - remind them that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help: 1-800-273-TALK (8255); https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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