Men are not exactly renowned for sharing their feelings or opening up emotionally.
Decades worth of macho infused stigmatism and unfair social expectations have seen generations of male Australians forgo the opportunity to talk about problems, and opt for silence instead.
While notions like this might seem outdated in this day and age, sadly they are still far to prominent, and even though attitudes are changing, nowhere is this problem more prevalent than in elderly males.
Believe it or not, men over the age of 85 have the highest suicide rate in Australia, and these deaths are not all the result of men who were dealing with mental illness.
This tragedy targets the everyday men who feel worthless and undervalued by a society they once played a significant part in.
And the saddest thing is, it doesn’t seem like too many people know or care about it.
On a personal note, my grandfather actually took his own life before I had a chance to get to know him, but to be honest I thought that his suicide must have been a rare occurrence.
The fact that elderly men having the highest rate of suicide in the country is not common knowledge, indicates that it is not regarded as an issue of importance.
The only thing that shocked me more than that statistic itself, was the reaction that the HelloCare team got when we spoke to an Australian mental health peak body who deals with issues of depression and suicide.
One of our team members was actually told, “these people are not a priority for us at this stage,” regarding the suicide rate of elderly men.
And when pressed for reasoning as to why they would ignore the group of people with the highest suicide rates, this person referred to a lack of funding, and eluded to the fact that elderly people had already lived long lives anyway.
If this doesn’t give you an indication of the attitudes and value currently being placed on the welfare of elderly Australians, you’re either stupid, or your working for one of the organisations that makes more money if they pretend not to notice what’s going on.
A lot of these elderly men were once the bread-winners and providers for their entire families, and now find themselves retired and feeling worthless after investing a lifetime into a career.
In years gone by, people didn’t have the level of connectivity and social interaction that many of us enjoy today. So for some of these men, their wives or partners were basically their entire social network.
If their wives have passed away or are unable to communicate, they feel as though they have no one left.
While older women are also susceptible to similar feelings of social isolation, they are more inclined to voice these problems with other residents or aged care workers than men are.
Internalising these feelings out of habit or because of the heartbreaking fact that they might have nobody to share their thoughts with, has horrific emotional consequences.
And just like always, no one seems to want to talk about it.
WHAT’S THE ANSWER?
People need to begin to look inwards and stop looking at an elderly person as a burden or a hindrance to their lifestyle of choice.
While it’s understandable that a number of families are unable to care for elderly loved ones in their own homes for a variety of reasons, dropping by to visit a loved one in a facility regularly will allow them to feel valued and for you to remain connected with them.
If this is also not an option, the simple act of a regular phone call is better than the feelings of hopelessness and abandonment that come with being isolated from your family.
Self worth comes down to how you feel about yourself, but these attitudes are heavily influenced by how you feel others perceive you.
And It’s hard to feel that you’re a valued member of society when the lack of contact from loved ones is making you feel that you aren’t even valued by your own family.
We as a society have to ask ourselves whether we want to appear like we care about our elderly, or whether we are actually willing to do what it takes to ensure that they feel valued.
And if you feel guilty right now, maybe it’s time to examine why you’re feeling that way, instead of shying away from it.
The person/persons depicted in the image above are in no way associated with the events or subject matters of this story.