A silent epidemic is killing men across the US and the UK in staggering numbers. It isn’t heart disease, cancer, or kidney disease—it’s suicide.

Male suicide rates are on the rise and increasing steadily with age. Men die by suicide 3.53 times more often than women. Every day 123 men in the US and 84 men in the UK take their own lives.

Despite these shocking statistics, conversations about men’s mental health and male suicide rates are few and far between in the media. When a celebrity tragically commits suicide, social media erupts with thoughts and prayers, and yet in our daily lives, how much thought do we give to the ordinary men who decide they can no longer keep fighting?

Paul McGregor, the UK-based author, blogger, and mental health advocate is working to change that. After losing his father to depression and suicide in his late teens, Paul is opening up conversations about suicide, depression, and men’s mental health to everyone—but particularly men—in an effort to bring an awareness to this quiet killer and encourage men to turn to talking and treatment, instead of suicide.

PsyCom’s Ann Gault sat down with Paul to talk about male suicide rates, the challenges men face when it comes to mental health, and his unique path to asking for support. Listen to our interview below or continue reading for more insight.

Audio Interview with Paul

Don’t have time to listen? Read Ann’s interview with Paul here:

Psycom: In 2009, just shy of his 19th birthday, Paul tragically lost his father to suicide. Coming to terms with this difficult loss has taken a toll on his mental health, but he’s also managed to find meaning in the struggle. In the UK, like the U.S., suicide rates have been steadily rising. In the United States, according to the CDC, suicide rates are four times higher in men than in women. Depression and economic difficulties are strongly linked to suicide risk. Paul has insights and helpful advice for men caught up in this struggle and he is working to change these grim realities.

Today, in his work as a mental health advocate, Paul is also helping men understand and work through their depression. Welcome, Paul.

Paul: Welcome! Thank you, Ann, for having me. I appreciate your time.

Psycom: I appreciate you so much and the work you’re doing. It seems like the state of men and their emotional wellbeing is really becoming a big topic of conversation and you fit right into that world. I know you have a lot to say on the topic. Why don’t we start with telling my audience a little bit about why you’re here and how you got interested in this topic.

Paul: Of course. I always say it’s very hard for me to explain the whole story–I’m sure we’re going to go into different stories as the episode goes on–but if I can try and compress the past nine years into a minute, it would be that, as I lost my dad to suicide in 2009. My dad was someone who–we never saw it coming, you know–he was a full-time engineer, he has a well-well paid job, he ran a part-time physiotherapy business, he had a psychology degree, read self-help books, he meditated occasionally, he was an athlete, he as the fastest veteran 1500 meter champion, he had a loving wife, me and my brother, a good friend support group.

One day, he just broke and he went from someone who I saw cry for the first time and seem very off in his behavior, to going to the doctors to ask for help and get antidepressants, to two weeks later attempting to take his own life for the first time. That for us was the biggest shock, but then it was a 6-month battle after he survived that attempted suicide. He was in and out of a mental health unit, he was battling with his depression, we were still trying to come to terms with what was going on because we didn’t really understand exactly what was going on.

March 4th, 2009 was the day that he did actually take his own life by stepping in front of a lorry. It then was a part of me. I lost a huge part of me, but at the same time, I dealt with his suicide and losing him completely the wrong way. I say that I dealt with it the same way most 18 to 19-year-old men would in that I didn’t deal with it and that lead me to depression myself. I never like to say suicidal thoughts, but there were times when I questioned why he did it and could see myself actually doing it.

I started trying to turn my life around. I became like a scientist, experimenting with different things that would make me feel better. Being able to talk about it 9 years later is allowing me to become more at peace with it than I was before.

A Teenager Coping with The Loss

Psycom: So, talk to me a little bit more about what you said before–that you dealt with your dad’s death the way that most teenagers would have dealt with it.

Paul: I think it’s just a case of men and women, but more so men, we don’t like to show emotion–we emotion as weakness in a way. When my dad died, I cried, I got upset, I got angry, and people would message me saying that they hoped I was okay. A week later I was in a night club, getting drunk and carrying on, and I felt like that was me showing strength. I then started the business as you mentioned, I worked harder and harder, I brought materialistic items–I just didn’t show any emotions because I wanted to show the people around me that I was dealing with it. The reality of it was that I wasn’t dealing with it, I’d just buried it away.

Psycom: You used fashion as a way to bury your grief?

Paul: It’s interesting, I’ve thought about this a lot more recently. The reason I went into the fashion industry was that I used to sell clothing on eBay, but now, looking back, I used fashion to feel better about myself. I started to wear suits and pay attention to how I looked and because of that I started to get compliments and that gave me some confidence. But, I always say now, it was just a way of me masking those insecurities and pain.

Psycom: And, of course, that pain doesn’t go away, unless you allow yourself to process it.

Paul: Exactly. I didn’t grieve. If I’m honest, I was ashamed of my dad and his decision, and I didn’t want to tell people. I used to lie about my dad’s suicide because I didn’t want those awkward conversations or people judging me, my dad, or my family. When people would ask me how I lost my dad, I would tell them it was in a road accident. It wasn’t that he suffered from depression and he took his own life.

Psycom: Did you have a day or a moment that you recognized you needed to cry out for help and spoke to a mental health professional or a good friend?

Paul: I was always quite open with my Mum, so I would talk to her about it. I did go to the doctors and the first thing that he did was offer me antidepressants which I turned down because I didn’t feel like antidepressants had benefited my dad in any way. Then the doctor referred me to a counselor, who I saw twice, but felt that I couldn’t really open up to. I don’t think there was a specific moment, but more like a two-year period where I was just existing.

Psycom: You mentioned feeling ashamed of you dad’s suicide. In 2009, social media was pretty well established, did that affect your experience? Were people talking on social media and sharing information that made it hard for you to keep it a secret?

Paul: I’d love to see my Facebook posts from around that time. I don’t think I posted anything about my dad–back then people didn’t share as much on social media. A lot of people from where I live commute to London for work on the train, and there was a lot of cases where people would take their own life by jumping in front of a train. That would disrupt the ability for them to get home or to work and I remember reading on social media things like, “Some idiot jumped in front of the train and now I can’t get home from work to go to the gym,” and I never used to think twice about it. After my dad did what he did, I used to get very angry about those posts on social media.

Psycom: That must have been very painful for you to see comments like that.

Paul: It was. Especially the way that my dad did die–he caused an accident and there was a lot of traffic, a roadblock, an air ambulance–and even tracing back then I remember people talking on social media about this traffic that was stopping people from being able to get home. It wasn’t until later on until I said to myself, “Wow, that was my dad who caused that to happen. It’s a hard one with social media. Now it’s even harder because people are more open on social media. Whereas in 2009, it wasn’t as engaging as it is now.

Psycom: When your dad took his life in such a public way by jumping in front of the lorry–and for those who aren’t familiar with the term lorry, it’s what we would call a truck here–it was also a way that would give him more certainty of effect. In this country, we’re having a bit of a crisis with firearms and there is a lot of research coming out about rates of suicide in men linked to states that have a higher degree of gun ownership. Because when you choose a gun to end your life, it’s a very certain way to end your life. In the UK, where guns aren’t as prevalent, I’m interested in how people take their lives. Have you given any thought to or had any conversations with the person that was driving the lorry?

Paul: It’s hard for me to talk about because my dad was the biggest people pleaser you could ever imagine. He would never want to hurt anyone or put anyone in danger. So for him to make that decision, it just goes to show that you aren’t thinking rationally with suicide. He was never thinking about the lorry driver or the accident he would cause. My dad was such a people pleaser.

We wanted to reach out to the lorry driver and see how he was and he responded in a positive way. I believe his son was involved in a car accident before–I think he might have died– but now this had happened to him when he was behind the wheel, it gave him some peace in a way. I don’t know now what happened to him, but I would like to.

There’s a footballer in the UK, a guy called Kyle Carlisle, who has attempted to take his life 3 times now. The last time, he did the exact same thing as my dad and he survived. Sometimes my family and I think, how did he survive, and my dad didn’t? But the hard thing about that story is that the truck driver then killed himself as a result. The grief of suicide always involves the guilt and blame you put on yourself, and the person taking their own life would never be in the right mind to consider that. It definitely puts other people in a position to experience mental health problems themselves afterward.

Psycom: How has your view of suicide changed in the aftermath of your dad? Certainly, you have a greater understanding, and it sounds like you’ve been comforted by the thought that your dad wasn’t in the right frame of mind.

Paul: There were instances where I felt like maybe I could have done more to help him. As time went on I began to forgive him.

Someone who helped me a lot is a lady called Ann. As I said, it was kind of two-year period of just trying different things and existing. I saw her about three or four times, and finally, she was the person that I opened up to.

Psycom: So, she was a counselor, I’m assuming?

Paul: No, this is the weirdest thing. She would label herself as a holistic therapist. She doesn’t charge money; she takes donations. She does a massage, but she also talks to you. She’s a very spiritual person and I felt like I connected with her. I think it was the third or fourth session that she got the real reason why I was there out of me. She was the only person that I felt like I could really open up to and she put me on a spiritual path. She really made me come to terms with my Dad’s suicide and helped me to forgive him.

Psycom: That’s really interesting. So, you didn’t go there thinking that she would counsel you, but for pain relief which may have been a symptom of your grieving. Did you ever think that the pain you were experiencing was a result of the emotional trauma?

Paul: Yes, exactly that. A lot of it was in my mind–I felt like I was in more pain when, like you said, a lot of it was inner pain that manifested physically. I had to forgive myself and forgive Dad. Suicide is the biggest killer of men in the UK under 50. A man kills himself every two hours. That’s 84 men a week. I didn’t even know these statistics until my Dad. I started to see that there are so many people struggling and turning to suicide.

Psycom: Have you made sense of his reasons or have you just accepted that you may never understand the reasons why?

Paul: There could have been so many reasons, but I honestly think he seemed happy. That was a big struggle for me internally because I just felt like, “Was my Dad a lie?”

PsyCom: Because he never seemed troubled?

Paul: Exactly. He never seemed troubled. He was a loving Dad, a loving husband. At the same time, looking back at it now he obviously did have a lot of issues which I strongly believe he buried. Again, this is what I did, it’s what a lot of men do, we bury this pain, the childhood trauma, and we’ll put on a brave face and surround ourselves with short-term pleasures. But for me, my dad and other stories I’ve now been exposed to, there will always come a point where it will hit very quickly. I saw a video of Chester Bennington, from Linkin Park. He took his life recently and there’s a video his wife shared on social media after. The video is from two days before he took his life, and he’s with his family, laughing, giggling, he looks like someone who is happy. And two days later he took his own life. I feel like that was the same with my dad. It took two weeks—seeing my dad change behaviors. Two weeks, so quick. I think my dad buried so much for so long, and then it resurfaces and is hard to deal with.

Psycom: You’ve recently become a parent yourself. Are you in a period of sleep deprivation due to the new baby?

Paul: 21 months now. So that period has passed, but sometimes he wakes me up early!

Psycom: Do you think you’ll be a different parent than your dad was, seeing as how you have two sons and you are working to help men be more comfortable with their emotions.

Paul: It’s a hard one because I feel that there’s a balance you need to give. As a dad, I think you need to show that masculine side to your children because my wife is going to raise them in her own ways, differently than me, but I still want them to open up to me. If they cry I’m not going to be hard on them or make them feel like they can’t express emotion.

Psycom: Do you feel like being open and vulnerable with them is something you have to do intentionally or does it come automatically to you at this point?

Paul: I think it’s automatic. And I was brought up like that. I’d kiss and hug my dad every night. He was very loving. He allowed us to show emotion. The difference was that my dad was brought out by my Grandad, who I’ve never seen cry. My grandad is still alive—he’s 92. My dad was his only child. In addition to losing my dad, he lost his wife of fifty years, (25), in a period of one month.

Psycom: That’s a lot of loss all at once. Has he ever spoken to you about those losses?

Paul: Yes. At both funerals, my Grandad didn’t shed a tear. And that’s him—he’s been through war, he doesn’t show much emotion. But now he’s 92 now, and over the last 6 months, his health has gotten worse. I see him every other day and now he’s become more open, he’s become more emotional. My dad was brought up by my granddad. My nan was quite sensitive, so my dad inherited that. Looking at my childhood, those characteristics pass down. There were times when my dad was sensitive and there were times when he was stern. If I didn’t have a good game of football, he would let me know. So there was a balance to him.

Still Struggling with Depression

Psycom: Could you talk about where you are now in terms of struggles with depression. Is it something you look at as an issue you’ll always have to deal with?

Paul: I feel like depression and mental health, for me, I used to not know how to overcome the struggles I was facing. I didn’t know how to get myself whole or feel better. Whereas now, I do. I have a good set of habits to utilize to make myself feel better. There are times recently where I’ve found myself feeling very low, but the difference is that now I have habits I can turn to like journaling, exercise, nutrition. I can analyze what I’m doing and where I’ve gone wrong. I also still see Ann, the lady who helped me. Not as often as I used to, but I go there once a month and we’ll talk about spirituality, what I’m doing. It’s a friendly relationship. And there are times when I need to open up and she’ll listen. That helps a lot.

Psycom: Could you elaborate on the spirituality aspect, since people define it in different ways?

Paul: I’m not a religious person, I don’t go to church. For me, I was drawn to actionable spirituality. What I mean by that is authors like Eckhart Tolle who has a book, The Power of Now, and The New Earth, about ego. The obvious one is The Secret (by Rhonda Byrne), about laws of attraction, that helped. Neale Donald Walsch has a book called Conversations with God. I was very drawn to those books. They helped me understand who I was, why my dad did what he did.

Psycom: So seeking ways to understand through conversations and books has given you comfort?

Paul: Exactly. Ann gave me the first book—Eckhart Tolle’s The New Earth—and I was a few pages in, put the book down, and thought, “what the hell is this?” And then I stuck with it and as I read more, I started to question myself. It comes down to self-awareness. I feel like I’ve become self-aware and can ask myself “why?” quite a lot. Why am I acting like that? Why am I behaving like that? Why did my dad do what he did? And that ability to ask questions of myself came from reading those books, speaking to Ann, speaking to others, and I think everything always comes down to self-awareness.

Psycom: In my experience with men—I have my son, my husband, my dad—I feel like men are not as introspective as women. How do you feel about men being taught something that comes more naturally to women?

Paul: That’s spot on. Women, and I’m not trying to stereotype here, will go out with their friends and talk about their issues. They’ll talk about how they are feeling and relationship problems. Whereas with men, we’ll go to the pub, grab a pint, talk about football. Guys will smile, joke, banter, but inside they are hurting but never feel like they can talk to their friends. This is the biggest misconception that I had, that I couldn’t talk to my friends. But not I’m more open and all of them have turned to me and let me know I can talk to them. Some have turned to me and told me that they are struggling.

Psycom: I bet you’ve given them permission to do that, in some way.

Paul: Yes, because if I’m open, they’re open. I did a presentation on this in Atlanta. There were 200 men. I spoke about depression at a seminar that was about business and style. Because I spoke about my depression, and my dad, so many people came up to me afterward about their depression, their struggles, their suicidal thoughts. So, like you say, when one person opens up, it gives others the opportunity to open up.

A Mental Health Advocate Is Born

Psycom: And this was at a conference about business and fashion?

Paul: It was a several-day event in Atlanta being run by YouTubers. The first day was about business, the second was self-improvement so fashion, grooming, facing fears. I was the last to present and I spoke about depression. The video is on my website. It was the first time I had ever opened up about it on stage. It was a big therapy session for me, but so many men approached me afterward, some in tears, and they felt like they could finally express how they felt. In the UK, 79%  of suicides are male. 21% are women, 79% are men. That’s a massive imbalance, so it’s obvious men aren’t dealing with their emotions correctly.

Psycom: It’s a drastic reaction to the inability to deal with the emotion, so you escape from them and there’s no turning back.

Paul: We struggle to decide what, today, matters. For my grandad’s generation, it was black and white. You went to war. My nan stayed at home, she raised my dad. My grandad went to work. When he came home, dinner was on the table. Whereas now, women have become more independent, which is great, and men have become more open with their emotions. But the issue is that a man doesn’t know how to define his role, and there’s a struggle with that.

Psycom: That’s an interesting way to look at it. One last question, your view of medication now?

Paul: It’s changed. My dad never took paracetamol to cure headaches, he was very holistic. So when he went to the doctor and the doctor said, “you’re depressed, here’s a pill,” my dad started to take these antidepressants. He went back a few days later and said, “this isn’t working.” The doctor told him to double his dose. And then he attempted to take his own life. So I did not like antidepressants at all. But as time has gone on and there are more studies, it shows that some people need medication to balance the brain. Medication does make you feel better, it does help.

The issue that I find, in the UK, is that that is all the doctors seem to do—prescribe you a pill. Even if the meds work for you,  it’s 5% of what you should be doing to overcome depression, anxiety, etc. For me, antidepressants have their place, but they are handed out like sweets. The UK newspapers The Sun and The Telegraph did front page spreads about antidepressants. There was a study saying more people need them, so more people will be prescribed them. One of the headlines was, “Pop More Happy Pills.” There’s a disconnect there because people will take these antidepressants and believe that it will solve all the problems.

Psycom: But you are living proof that it takes more than a “happy pill” to be happy.

Paul: Exactly. There’s a place for them, but you cannot tell someone they will feel better just by taking a pill. There are side effects of antidepressants, especially the ones that my dad was on. One of the side effects was suicidal thoughts. I’m not a doctor, but there is a lot of testing that comes with taking antidepressants. Doctors will have you try one, if that doesn’t work, they’ll try you on another one. Again, I’m not an expert. There is a place for antidepressants, but it’s not the solution.

Last Updated: Jun 11, 2018