Mental Health

Strong and silent: A dying breed of men

by Gabriel Ong // August 2, 2019, 7:33 pm

Dying breed of men - Featured image

I came across some shocking statistics regarding suicides in Singapore a few days ago. Here are three key figures:

  • The number of suicides in Singapore rose by 10% last year 
  • 19 boys between 10 and 19 years old committed suicide
  • 7 in 10 suicides were by men

In this article, I’m going to narrow in on the boys and men who are evidently struggling in Singapore.

In the article, Wong Chun Lai, senior assistant director at the Samaritans of Singapore, summed up a key problem that Singaporean men face:

“We live in a society that stresses the importance of masculine qualities as a measure of success. As a result, we grow impatient toward behaviours that seem to depict weakness.

“Men are stereotypically expected to be tough, stoic and financially stable. The slightest hint of vulnerability can be seen as an imperfection.”

I felt so sad reading that sentence.

Because if you ask any Singaporean what a stereotypical Asian father is like, chances are, the descriptions you’d get aren’t likely to vary from “tough” or “stoic”. For older guys, I’m fairly sure it’d be about “putting food on the table” or “bringing the bacon home”. For younger guys, it would likely be about doing well financially.

So many guys invariably struggle when they fail to live up to these expectations imposed upon them, either by society or themselves.

It made me think of something Pastor Kirk Tan, a veteran of ministries to men, told me in our interview — that man is a loner, pretender and performer.

Men united: Why guys should never walk alone

Maybe that stems from a mindset passed on from generations hardier than our own. Either way, today, most of us prize being able to suck it up and tank or tahan. After all, in this lightning-quick culture, nobody wants to be a burden.

But boys grow up with this rhetoric, and eventually become men who’d rather die than cry out for help. And that’s exactly why we have those tragic numbers for our men.

19. 

That’s the number of young guys who, last year, decided there was no more hope, and that the only thing left to do was to take their own lives. Nineteen boys who were all cute babies once, who could have gone on to live meaningful and glorious lives, now dead.

I’m spelling it out this way because numbers and death tolls never quite have the right gravity about them until we get the right perspective. In the church where I work, that’s like if two whole cell groups just upped and vanished. That image helps me keep the number from being too sanitised. Each one was a son: a life irrevocably lost.

At 16, I checked myself into the Institute of Mental Health

It’s been a bit doom and gloom so far, but Wong’s assessment on young people offers a ray of hope: “Youths today seem to have greater awareness of the moments when they feel alone and helpless. They are more willing to reach out and explore available support avenues like our support services, social media and their peers.”

Thank God for that! Millennials get a lot of flak for being emo, but I think the growing willingness in this generation to speak up about mental health could help turn this tragic tide and trend around.

You can see it in the woke conversations we have, and increasingly in the music we listen to – NF’s latest album comes to mind. Indeed, Wong noted that more than 78% of all who wrote in to SOS for help were young people between the ages of 10 and 29. 

There is hope, as long as we stay humble enough to hold out our hands for help.

I was too proud to seek help for my mental health problems

I hope I’ve sufficiently laid out this issue because I’d like to close by sharing two ways we could respond to it right now.

The first involves community. Male or female, we all need a safe place where we can be vulnerable and receive help. I think back to some of the most difficult and emotionally trying times in my life, and I realise I have been so blessed to have had in spiritual community in those times.

If you’ve been Christian long enough, you may take community for granted. I think it’s fair to say that it isn’t easy to find a band of brothers in the world, who will help you up when you stumble, who will love you. So never despise the spiritual community God has placed you in.

What having anxiety taught me about God

The second involves Christ. Many take their own lives when they reach a point and believe they have no hope or no choice. 

Are you tired of life? God will give you strength to go on: “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Do you think God doesn’t care about you? God knows the plans He has for each and everyone of us.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

The OG KJV translation is even better:

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”

God is thinking of you! God loves you and wants – as long as you also will it – to give you an expected end. That is God’s end, not an end we choose or make for ourselves. 

If you don’t know Christ, I’m praying you will come to trust Him as your Lord and Saviour. To whoever’s reading this,  I’d like to say the prayer of Romans 15:13 for you:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus is our only and everlasting hope.

If you’d like to speak to someone, help is available at the following centres:

Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) 24-hour Hotline: 1800 221 4444 or pat@sos.org.sg.
Institute of Mental Health’s 24-hour Hotline: 6389 2222
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800 353 5800
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800 283 7019

And if you know someone who is at immediate risk, do reach out to emergency medical services.

THINK + TALK

  1. What are your thoughts and emotions when you hear about these suicide statistics?
  2. Are there any struggles that you’ve been carrying alone?
  3. Do you have a safe place where you can be vulnerable?
  4. What does hope in Christ mean to you?
About the author

Gabriel Ong

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.