Self-care and social ties can help men recover from the suicide of a loved one

June 20, 2018, University of British Columbia
Nursing professor John Oliffe heads the men's health research program at UBC. Credit: University of British Columbia

Recovering from the suicide of a friend, partner or family member can be emotionally challenging for men, largely due to masculine ideals that dictate men should remain stoic and keep their feelings bottled up.

But new UBC research suggests that other male values—like self-care and protecting family and friends—can help men deal with emotional trauma and encourage them to seek help while staying true to their manly ideals.

John Oliffe, the study's lead author and a UBC nursing professor, worked with 20 adult Canadian men, who had lost a close male friend or family member to suicide. The men were invited to take photos of objects, people or anything that connected to their grief and to narrate their photos in follow-up interviews.

The researchers found that the participants sought to explain their friend or family member's suicide in typically masculine terms, saying things like "he was strong to the end" or "he fought hard to control his demons/overcome his problems" or "he didn't want to be a burden to others."

"They also reacted to the suicide in a way that you might call stereotypically male—processing it on their own and not talking about it much, because as a guy you expect and you're expected to be 'strong' and not 'emotional'," said Oliffe, who heads the men's health research program at UBC.

But the participants held other masculine values as well that seemed to help them cope with the loss while protecting their mental well-being. A father who had lost his son to suicide said he wished he had shown more vulnerability himself, to show his son that it was all right to talk openly about one's troubles. Others said they learned something from the suicide of their or relative.

"One participant, a family man, said he realized it was important to seek help for a health or mental issue when necessary, in order to safeguard his 's future. Another said he learned a lesson from his father's death to not prioritize making money over everything else in life," said Oliffe.

In addition, the study showed that asking men to describe their experiences of grief and loss through photographs and storytelling could be therapeutic. People grieve in diverse ways and many men may feel uncomfortable being asked to talk things through, but are more responsive to informal methods that let them speak up without threatening their masculinity, according to Oliffe.

"There is a growing body of research about male , but we know much less about the grieving process that the survivors, particularly the men, go through," said Oliffe. "Hopefully our research adds to this knowledge and helps health-care providers design more effective interventions to protect men's mental health and that of their families."

Explore further: Millennial men value altruism and self-care above traditional male qualities

More information: John L. Oliffe et al, Men on Losing a Male to Suicide: A Gender Analysis, Qualitative Health Research (2018). DOI: 10.1177/1049732318769600

Related Stories

Millennial men value altruism and self-care above traditional male qualities

April 25, 2018
Contrary to popular stereotypes, young men today are likely to be selfless, socially engaged and health-conscious, according to a new study from the University of British Columbia and Intensions Consulting, a Vancouver-based ...

Lower education and income linked to higher suicide risks for gay and bisexual men

October 2, 2017
Gay and bisexual men making less than $30,000 a year and without a university degree have more than five times the odds of attempting suicide compared with their more advantaged peers, according to new research from the University ...

Study finds men with depression often their own toughest critics

January 27, 2016
Society views men struggling with depression with compassion and understanding, while men view their problems in a very negative light, according to a new study from UBC, funded by the Movember Foundation.

What to do when someone is suicidal

June 9, 2018
The U.S. suicide rate is increasing in almost every state, according a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide is listed as a leading cause of death in the report, and more than half the ...

Coping with suicide loss

September 8, 2014
If you're grieving after a loved one died by suicide or attempted suicide, you don't have to suffer alone.

Recommended for you

Even toddlers weigh risks, rewards when making choices

September 21, 2018
Every day, adults conduct cost-benefit analyses in some form for decisions large and small, economic and personal: Bring a lunch or go out? Buy or rent? Remain single or start a family? All are balances of risk and reward.

Early warning sign of psychosis detected

September 21, 2018
Brains of people at risk of psychosis exhibit a pattern that can help predict whether they will go on to develop full-fledged schizophrenia, a new Yale-led study shows. The findings could help doctors begin early intervention ...

Quitting junk food produces similar withdrawal-type symptoms as drug addiction

September 20, 2018
If you plan to try and quit junk food, expect to suffer similar withdrawal-type symptoms—at least during the initial week—like addicts experience when they attempt to quit using drugs.

In depression the brain region for stress control is larger

September 20, 2018
Although depression is one of the leading psychiatric disorders in Germany, its cause remains unclear. A recent study at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig, Germany, found ...

American girls read and write better than boys

September 20, 2018
As early as the fourth grade, girls perform better than boys on standardized tests in reading and writing, and as they get older that achievement gap widens even more, according to research published by the American Psychological ...

Mindfulness meditation: 10 minutes a day improves cognitive function

September 19, 2018
Practising mindfulness meditation for 10 minutes a day improves concentration and the ability to keep information active in one's mind, a function known as "working memory". The brain achieves this by becoming more efficient, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.