Archives for July 24, 2016

Dead Men: Our Quiet Suicide Epidemic

In journalism school we’re taught to avoid covering suicide outside of extreme circumstances. There’s a multitude of potential ramifications: copycats, contagion, grieving families looking to maintain privacy, and the stigma surrounding exploiting someone’s personal choice for public profit.
I grew up in a culture where suicide was considered the coward’s way out. People who took their own lives were eternally smeared. We were led to believe they were only thinking of themselves, leaving loved ones to sort out the ‘why’ and pick up the pieces. They left behind responsibilities, tagging themselves with the mark of giving up on life.
It was a dastardly act, heinous and frowned upon; shameful, something to hide and bury as quickly as possible. Males in particular were told to toughen up and grit it out. If you killed yourself, you were no doubt less of a man. You couldn’t hack it, you couldn’t cut it in this rough and callous world. Sympathy and empathy were hard to come by, like squeezing blood from a very stubborn stone.
To be honest, I think this is bullshit.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

In 2011 Dan Bilsker published a piece in the British Columbia Medical Journal titled The Silent Epidemic of Male Suicide. In his report, Bilsker outlined the ghostlike crisis we’ve been actively ignoring for years with glaring ineptitude.
Suicide is one of the top three causes of mortality among men ages 15 to 44 in BC. Men are also three times more likely to kill themselves than women. And this is not an isolated incident, it’s a worldwide trend. The male suicide rate increases fairly steadily with age, peaking in the late 40s, falling briefly, then rising again in the 80s. In addition, male rates are greater than female rates at all ages, and substantially greater across most of each’s lifespan.
It’s when you break the numbers down they become truly frightening.
Each week in Canada alone, 50 men take their own life. That’s about seven a day, one every three hours. Right now as you read this, a man in Canada is thinking of killing himself, and will do so shortly. Someone you know, or may have met briefly, is so depressed, he thinks life is no longer worth living. But nobody’s talking about male suicide. In fact, we’ve never really been a society to talk about the death of our men by their own hands.
When we do, it’s glamourized and glorified; a soldier lying down on a grenade to save his platoon, whisking a bomb away to rescue a damsel in distress, a city or even the planet. On their way out, they get their moment in the sun, basking in honour, valiant in death, remembered for eternity as a self-less hero.
What about the oilfield workers losing their jobs right now due to the price crash? Suicide rates for men have spiked as much as 30% in Alberta since the shock took over our national economy. As their debt mounts and job prospects flounder, where’s their Shakespearian denouement?
To say this is not a public health crisis would be to ignore the very fabric woven into modern society: that our men are awash with personal suffering, and most of it takes place in deafening silence. How many of those oil field workers feel as if they exist in a culture where reaching out, seeking counselling or talking about depression is okay? Chances are it’s as close to zero as you can get.
Regardless of your stance on energy policy, right now we need these men (and women) to power our lives, but when it comes to offering them support through a very tough economic time, we have, and continue to abandon them because they’re “rig pigs” who just want to get drunk, snort coke and blow their paycheques.
But do we ever stop to think maybe they’re partially trapped in a culture where the only way to mask mental suffering is by drinking heavily and doing drugs? I’m not saying they’re solely victims of circumstance, but it’s time we realized we all create culture, we all construct our environments.
I’ve worked on those rigs, I know those guys, and a lot of them are incredibly intelligent and thoughtful men who are just scared shitless to share their feelings because they’ll be called a ‘pussy’ or a ‘fag’.
That’s terrible, but we do not fix the culture by ignoring it or casting it with permanent dye. These men need our help to break their own cycle of silence, because they don’t feel comfortable asking for it. Instead they’re putting guns to their heads and pulling the triggers. This is everyone’s problem.
In today’s 24/7 news cycle not much sticks anymore. We’re all sufficiently whipped into a frenzy, we run to our social media handle of choice, vent profusely, then reload for the next argument, the next shaming, the next witch hunt. We’ve each received our own soapbox, and have let narcissism drive our words, pouring our hearts and souls onto the masses with little regard for remorse or consequence.
It’s no wonder we find the news depressing in 2016, it’s a sheet blanket of white noise perpetuated by fear, powered by conflict and driven by mob rule. I myself am just as much to blame as anyone, I read those stories, I click on those links, I make my own bed every night. But nothing shook me like a series of articles I stumbled upon this summer, temporarily breaking my hamster wheel trance of perpetual infotainment.
I came across an article in The Atlantic a few months back. It wasn’t a huge piece, a few paragraphs at best. What it detailed left me awake for most of the night. While everyone is warning of some external foe that might come murder us, we’re all quietly taking our own lives at an ever-growing rate.
We’re statistically forgoing pills and choosing guns, leaving behind cries for help and committing fully to what some call the ultimate shameful act. Suicide rates are not only a crisis, but a growing one in record numbers—men, women, the graphs across the board are going up.
The Atlantic piece outlined a CDC National Centre report that found suicide rates in the U.S. were the highest they’d been in three decades, increasing almost 25% from 1999-2014. Men once again topped the list, with those aged 45-64 the most likely to take their own life.
A few weeks before that, The Atlantic published a precursor piece, longer and more in depth: Why Are So Many Middle-Aged White Americans Dying? The article, with a handful of corresponding graphs, cited another study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, outlining what they called “despair deaths”.
Numbers rose on a bell curve much like skyrocketing consumer debt, housing prices and carbon dioxide emissions. These deaths included drug overdoses and alcohol-related liver diseases. You’re either actively killing yourself, or taking passive-aggressive steps towards it.
Anyone who has the wherewithal to drink, smoke, snort or inject their bodies until their heart stops beating has lost all grip on sanity; logic no more, faith long gone and washed away with the receding tide of reason.
But this festering, growing epidemic of dead men is going unnoticed and unreported. Even though The National Center for Health Statistics called suicide a “national security crisis”, the story barely cracked the international headlines, and was gone from the news cycle within the span of about six days.
Invariably swept under our collective rug, brushed aside into the corner of our culture, we’re more attuned to frivolous threats, vast fields of red herrings and the fear-mongering panderings of election cycle demagogues. We don’t pay much attention to something that kills while simultaneously sending a chilling statement about our current societal makeup: in an age of fear, our priorities are horribly misplaced.
We’d rather call bullshit and ignore this problem. We’d rather continue to let men take their own lives at record levels, refusing to cover them, refusing to acknowledge them as anything but shameful, and refusing to talk about our problems for fear of social repercussions.
Well fuck that.
I’ve had more than a few dark periods in my life. Yes I was depressed, and yes I thought about suicide, and yes it’s tough to write these words without shame creeping into my psyche. I’ve been conditioned to feel guilty, not proud, that at certain times in my life I was surviving more than thriving.
Life can be incredibly fucking hard at times, and I was doing myself no favours by thinking this was something I should suffer through internally. That I should ‘man up’ and grit my teeth. I drank too much–self-medicating–and this was fine, it was an acceptable facet of society. I was a dude, and my life was shit, so I could at least go out, get wasted and mask my problems.
It only made things worse.
But instead of continuing down this path I sought help, I spoke to people and professional counsellors, I talked about my internal, personal issues with those I loved and trusted. I went online and did research, I used the internet to educate myself about why I was such a mess.
Suicide is not a shameful act, and suicide is something we need to be okay talking about, out in the open, because it’s killing us as much as any other chronic disease. This external dialogue I embarked upon helped me get through a very dark period in my life and find a new voice inside my head, one that expresses feelings instead of unhealthily bottling them up. I’m still a man, and in 2016, the fact I’m willing to talk about my problems makes me more so today, not less.
What still continues to give me pause however is my own personal situation. Everyday I’m bombarded with death threats from external forces—terrorists, heart disease, maniacs with guns, the list is endless.
I’m told there’s so many things out there that want to kill me: ISIS jihadists, cholesterol, cancer, sharks, and second-hand smoke. But the chilling statistic is one that still lurks below the surface, one I have to face everyday, regardless of the strides I’ve made over the years towards a better outlook on life and a positive mental health mindset.
That the biggest threat to my life remains myself.
Read More By Patrick Blennerhassett on the ManTalks Blog:
Letting Go of the Physicality of My Youth
Patrick Blennerhassett is a Vancouver-based writer and journalist. His non-fiction novel A Forgotten Legend: Balbir Singh Sr., Triple Olympic Gold & Modi’s New India was featured in such outlets as Maclean’s, the Vancouver Sun and on CBC. His fourth book The Fatalists, will be released this October.
Sign up to the ManTalks newsletter and every week we’ll send you an email with the week’s top articles and interviews.
[fc id=’3′][/fc]

The Art of Giving Back: An Unconventional Approach to Negotiation

April 2015: “I’m torn. I want to work with this conference in Guadalajara, but they can’t afford my keynote fee. I could give them a discount, but I’ve noticed that the clients who pay reduced rates end up treating me poorly.”
C*: “So, basically, they’re asking you to donate a chunk of your time and energy, right?”
Me: “Yeah, that’s one way of looking at it.”
C*: “Respond by asking them to donate their time and energy. Get the conference to do a community service project or something similar in exchange for the discount. If they’re open to it, then it’s a win all around.”
Me: “You’re a genius.”
When I told the conference coordinator that I’d be happy to offer a discount in exchange for community service, she leapt at the opportunity. The end result was amazing. Together, we activated hundreds – maybe thousands – of hours of community service. It was magic.


One of the hidden-in-plain-sight secrets about the human experience is that we are all deeply connected. Another secret: we all belong to one another. Many people succeed at creating amazing lives for themselves while still feeling like something is missing. This sense of lack or hollowness is a result of forgetting to invest in other people’s success as well as your own. Ultimately, a failure to invest in others’ happiness and stability is a failure to invest in yourself.
Fortunately, there are simple and effective ways to use your existing job – whether you’re a business owner, executive, or employee – to improve the world around you.

The uncomfortable tension between making money and being generous

Many of the most talented people I’ve met used to dream of making the world a better place. Now, they hide behind lies of powerlessness by telling themselves, “I can’t change the world” or “I’ll focus on giving back when I’m rich.”
And I get it. What they’re really trying to do is resolve two truths that seem to contradict one another:

  1. Making money for the sake of making money is inescapable. You have to pay the bills. Unfortunately, the mere act of making money and being successful, while addictive, is not intrinsically fulfilling.
  2. Being generous for the sake of being generous is extremely fulfilling. (1) Unfortunately, it’s also unsustainable on its own; the act of generosity does not usually generate enough income to live off of.

In an ideal world the solution is simple: dedicate half of your time to making a living and the other half to giving back.
But the reality is much more complicated. Volunteering can always be pushed to a later date, while paying the bills can’t. As a result, many people find that their goals change from giving back, to making enough, to making more. That’s exactly what happened to me. When I started working, I focused on reducing global poverty, but the demands of the real world interfered with my plans. Without noticing, I began spending more time thinking about my sales cycle and less time figuring out how to help others.
It was only when C* suggested requesting a volunteer project in exchange for a discount that I returned to using my business for social good. The trick is to harness what you’re already doing for the better good.

Using your job to give back part 1: entrepreneurs, executives, and people who can negotiate

If you’re a business owner or an executive, the approach I recommend is simple: if a client needs a discount, offer the discount in exchange for community service. This strategy can be effective with a wide variety of customers. I’ve used it with speaking, consulting, and coaching clients. C*, the friend who gave me this idea, works in film production, and he’s used it with his clients as well.

A few guidelines to make this feasible and effective:

  • Request a small amount of community service if your client needs a small discount. If they need a large discount, ask for a large amount of community service. On one side of the spectrum, I’ve asked for entire organizations to dedicate a full day to volunteering. On the other, I’ve requested that everyone involved bring a can of food for the local food pantry.
  • Focus on organizations that serve your client’s community. This makes it easier for your clients to say yes. It also extends the reach of your generosity, which is a deeply satisfying feeling.
  • Make sure that your client has partnered with a reputable organization that you respect. In other words, if you’re not an animal lover, and your client proposes working with the local animal shelter, politely decline and suggest a different organization. It’s important that you feel great about the social good you’re creating. Personally, I’m disturbed by poverty and homelessness. Because of this, I request that my clients partner with organizations addressing these issues.
  • Most importantly: take time to feel the impact that you’re creating. Your generosity and creativity benefits you, your client, and a group of benefactors. That’s true power. You deserve to feel amazing for becoming one of the people who actively makes our world a better place. If more people behaved like you, everyone would be better off.

Why this works: if you’ve ever given a discount to a client, there’s a good chance that you felt weird about it. I used to. In fact, many of the clients I formerly gave discounts to treated me worse than the clients who paid full price. (2)

There are two schools of thought as to why this happens. The first believes that people who are likely to negotiate tend to be high maintenance and difficult to work with. The other believes that when you negotiate, you signal that you are low-status and easily pushed around.
I don’t buy either of those theories. People treat us how we allow them to. If you give a discount without asking for something equivalent in return, you’ve indicated that you don’t fully believe in the value of what you’re selling. (3) By asking for something valuable -like your client’s time and energy- in exchange for a discount, you signal that you’re confident in your ability to deliver.

Using your job to give back part 2: employees, bosses, and owners

As crazy as it sounds, employees can use their company’s resources to give back to the local community too. The trick is to help your boss understand how she and the company benefit by getting involved with community service.
Here’s how to do it:
Begin by finding an organization that is somehow related to your company. Though there doesn’t have to be a logical connection between your company and the organization, having one helps. A few examples:

  • An accounting firm partnering with a mathematics tutoring center
  • An ice-cream stand partnering with a homeless shelter
  • A summer camp partnering with an overseas HIV/AIDS program for children (4).

If you can’t find a logical connection between your company and a philanthropic organization, aim to partner with an organization in your community. Local ties are very appealing to business owners.

  • Make volunteering beneficial for the company. The easiest way to do this is to contact the local media and let them know about your company’s efforts. Don’t overthink this. It’s the journalist’s job to cover local events. Most of them welcome tips about stories in their community. Of course, this is also a huge win for the company because it will generate free publicity and media coverage.
  • Schedule a time to chat with your boss. I suggest sending your boss an email asking if she’d be available for 15 minutes to discuss a new project.
  • Start by asking for a small commitment. Make it as easy as possible for your boss to say yes. A few guidelines: Ask if you and any interested employees could spend one Friday afternoon volunteering. Mention that Friday afternoon is the perfect time for volunteer work because employee engagement is already low. Tell her that you’ll handle the logistics and organization. Let her know that all you really need is her permission. Mention that this project can bring good publicity for the company, and to increase the likelihood of this happening, you will personally reach out to at least three journalists before and after the event. If you come prepared with a list of journalists and their contact information, it will be even easier for your boss to give you permission. Remind your boss, if appropriate, that creating an opportunity to serve the less fortunate will boost company morale. Tell her that you’d love it if she joined, too.
  • Pause to appreciate how exceptional you are, regardless of the outcome. If more people cared as much as you do we would have fewer problems and more joy. The world needs people like you. I hope you pause to feel good about that.
  • After the volunteer experience, have everyone sign a card for your boss and the owner of the company. You want to make your boss feel proud of the good work that “she” enabled. Yes, you’re really the one who did all of this, but it’s beneficial to give the credit away. Doing so will make your boss feel important and make her more likely to green light volunteer projects in the future. Also, repeat step five.
  • Assuming everything went well, ask if you can do this once a quarter. There’s a very good chance that your boss will say yes.

I know that a lot of people are going to dismiss this idea, telling themselves it would never work at their company. If this is you, my hope is simple: challenge your assumption by talking to your boss and seeing what happens (5). To dismiss an idea that excites you, without even attempting it, is to fail before you’ve begun.

The myth of powerlessness

It’s unrealistic for most people to dedicate their lives to building a better world. Because of this, many of the most generous, kind, and capable people have fallen victim to the toxic myth that their need to make money negates their desire to make a real difference in our world.
While this is a common belief, it’s also divorced from reality. No matter where you are in your job or business, there is always a way to generate profit while contributing to the creation of a better community. Anything less should be considered a failure to express your true power, creativity, and generosity.

  1. By “being generous for the sake of being generous,” I mean giving for the joy of knowing that your actions have improved someone’s life. This is very different than giving for the sake of receiving.
  2. Case in point: the last time I gave a client a discount without asking for something significant in return, she was slow to respond to my emails and payment was nearly five months late.
  3. And honestly, if you don’t fully believe in what you’re selling, you shouldn’t be selling it.
  4. It’s tempting to dismiss this idea as being wayyyyyy too far fetched to work. It’s not. The summer camp I used to work at (the best summer camp in the world, Camp Nashoba North) did exactly that, and I was the volunteer. While I was the only one who was sent overseas, they routinely send counselors to volunteer at Camp Sunshine, a local program for terminally ill children and their families.
  5. Can we have a bit of real talk for a second? One of the biggest problems in our world is that talented, generous people, like yourself, often fail to take action. They reject themselves and their ideas before they’ve even tried them. At an individual level, that’s sad because you aren’t realizing your true power or happiness. At a societal level, that’s tragic. So, please, if you’re sitting here thinking, “Oh, that’s a nice idea, Jason, but it’d never work,” at least try to make it happen. My bet is that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by your own ability. And if things don’t work out, feel free to send me a “Told ya so” email.

Read More By Jason Connell on the ManTalks Blog
How Should a Man be at 30?
5 Things About Sobriety That Surprised Me
Looking for Happiness? First Let the Cripping Pain of Existence Destroy You

Jason Connell is a speaker and writer who teaches confidence, self-love, and self-compassion. He’s worked with everyone from Senior members of the Obama administration and professional athletes to middle school students and emerging entrepreneurs. He shares his thoughts on life, authenticity, and power at:

Sign up to the ManTalks newsletter and every week we’ll send you an email with the week’s top articles and interviews.

[fc id=’3′][/fc]


"(Required)" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Which Statement Best Applies To You?

Click the button below.