[Short copy: This year, men’s issues were debated in parliament on International Men’s Day for the first time ever. Age UK Croydon joined the event online to bring attention to loneliness, which is affecting older men at increasing levels. Click here to find out more.]
The attention International Men’s Day courted this year was sparked by the actions of Conservative MP Phillip Davies who, following the release of shocking figures showing that men accounted for 80% of all suicides in 2013, made a heartfelt appeal for a debate on men’s issues in Parliament. Groups including LifevsSuicide, Samaritans, 1in3 and Crisis worked hard to continue the momentum on social media, and other organisations – including Age UK Croydon – took part in the online event.
The reasons for male suicide are complex, varied and intensely personal. However, research from a 2012 Samaritans report shows that men aged 40-44 who face financial insecurity are at the highest risk. Suicide rates among men aged 55 and older, too, have risen by around 12% in the last decade.
The Samaritans report found that isolation, unemployment and a lack of communication were core risk factors for this group. Similar concerns were echoed by a report by Independent Age and the International Longevity Centre which predicted that the number of older men living alone will increase by 65% in 2030.
Older men face the loss of their social networks when their spouse dies
The Independent Age and ILC report found that older men are increasingly outliving their partners and, when that happens, they tend to lose their social support network. Women, in general, tend to be the social organisers; they maintain communication with the rest of the family and are more likely to reach out to others. Men across all ages are far less likely to ask for company when they feel alone and have difficulty communicating their vulnerabilities to others.
Almost a quarter of all older men had contact with family less than once a month, and one in five reported having contact with friends less than once a month. A major difficulty of tackling loneliness in older men is the fact that they often have very different social needs to women.
While women reported enjoying clubs with activities that center social aspects, men in the study frequently said they feel of place and like they don’t fit in well in these settings. As loneliness is considered a severe risk to both mental and physical health, it is vital that men have services that are more targeted to their needs. A recurring sentiment expressed by the men in the study is the desire to use their existing skills so they have a purpose and feel useful – which is something that future social welfare initiatives can consider.
Age UK’s mission to tackle loneliness
Age UK has spent the year tirelessly campaigning to end loneliness and isolation in older people with their ‘Noone should have Noone’ and ‘Man on the Moon’ campaigns, and Age UK Croydon took to social media on International Men’s Day to raise awareness of the increasing risk that older men face. You can find out more by clicking here. However, this isn’t the first time Age UK has turned their focus to loneliness in older men.
With the awareness that older men prefer social activities that target their interests, Age UK set up a piloted ‘Men in Sheds’ programme from 2010-2012. The idea of The Shed began as a movement in Australia which sought to attract older men who would otherwise slip silently into loneliness. It offers older men a place to pick up skills, practice their hobbies and mingle with like-minded people. Most importantly, it offers them a sense of purpose.
While Age UK’s piloted Men in Sheds programme came to an end, Men in Sheds as an independent, grassroots movement has flourished and Sheds continue to be set up across London and worldwide. Click here to find out more.