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Men need to speak more openly about their mental health and seek help – that’s the message from Gloucestershire health experts for Men’s Health Week (June 15 to 21).

Far fewer men than women seek help and advice from Let’s Talk – the psychological therapy service provided by ²gether NHS Foundation Trust.

Yet men are four times more likely than women to end their own lives and many of those who die by suicide have never sought help or been referred to mental health services.

“The number of men who die by suicide both locally and nationally is a huge cause for concern,” said Dr Jon Haynes, Consultant Psychiatrist with ²gether.

“It’s recognised nationally that men are more at risk of suicide because they may be more likely to try and self-medicate and, for example, drink heavily, than seek help from professional and voluntary services.

“Unfortunately, male stereotypes do still exist and often men feel that to admit to having mental health issues is admitting to a weakness, but we and other organisations locally and nationally are working very hard to change this.”

The most recently available suicide data for Gloucestershire (for 2009 to 2012) shows that 80 per cent of people who ended their own lives in the county were men.

Of those who died by suicide, about two-thirds had no contact with mental health services in the 12 months preceding their death.

The latest figures for Let’s Talk, ²gether’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapy service (IAPT) show that during 2014/15, only 38 per cent of referrals were men*.

Cllr Andrew Gravells, Gloucestershire County Council cabinet member for Public Health, said: “I am determined we will do all we can to get the message across, especially to men, that support and information is there for anyone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts.

“We’re working hard with our partners to make sure people know where to turn for support, because there are safe and confidential ways to talk about how they feel with people who understand and know how to help.

“My colleagues and I will continue to explore every avenue of communication, to ensure that we get this message and information out to as many people as possible.”

A conference being held in Churchdown, Gloucestershire, on Friday June 26 will be used to formally launch a new initiative aimed at supporting men who have lost loved ones to suicide.

The conference, entitled ‘Big Boys Don’t Cry: Men and Mental Health’, is being jointly organised and hosted by the Gloucester branch of Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) and ²gether NHS Foundation Trust.

The new ‘Engaging Men’ project has been devised, researched and developed by Steve Carter, who is a member of Gloucester SOBS, and who lost his own son to suicide in 2011.

Steve said: “I became aware that our local SOBS meetings were being attended by more females than men and that men are more reluctant to attend the traditional format of meeting, in which users sit in a circle and talk about their experiences and emotions.

“I undertook a small research project into all forty-eight SOBS groups nationally and discovered that every one which responded reported the same higher attendance rate by women.

“A little further research indicated that males are typically reluctant to talk about their feelings face-to-face, but that they are more likely to open up in situations, or activities which are ‘shoulder-to-shoulder.’

“The isolation and loneliness of the typical ‘cave man’ mentality, as well as a degree of male social stereotyping, which expects males to be ‘strong’ for others, may be contributory reasons that males bereaved by suicide are also themselves at heightened risk of taking their own lives.

“It was out of this that I began to see the pressing need for additional provision, or activity to draw males out of their ‘caves’ and I began to formulate the ‘SOBS Engaging Men’ programme.”

‘Big Boys Don’t Cry: Men and Mental Health’ is the seventh annual training day conference to be organised by ²gether and SOBS. For more information on SOBS please ring 01452 371 945.

To contact ²gether’s free Let’s Talk service, ring 0800 073 2200 or visit www.talk²gether.nhs.uk.

The Samaritans are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and offer a confidential listening service for anyone. They can be contacted on 08457 90 90 90.