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Zero Suicides campaign: The growing crisis of middle-aged men taking their own lives

According to Kern County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, suicide rates are highest among white middle-aged men. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

Suicide rates among middle-aged white men continue to rise.

It's a silent crisis, and Eyewitness News is breaking the silence.

According to Kern County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, 79 percent of suicides are done by men, and white men between the ages of 45 and 64 are the bulk of that.

Ellen Eggert from Kern County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services said a big part of that is because many men don't ask for help and there is a stigma when it comes to talking about emotions.

"There is that stigma that if I ask for help I must be weak," Eggert said. "But we also know men go to the doctor when they're ill, they go to the hospital if they break a leg, but when it comes to asking for help when I'm depressed, if I'm suffering from anxiety, men have been trained that I don't ask for help."

That is a thought we are looking to change.

MORE | Zero Suicides: Kern County, Eyewitness News breaking silence to save lives | More Zero Suicides stories

"We have learned when men ask for help they get better," Eggert said. "There is help available and there is strength and there is courage in asking for help."

Although every situation is different, Eggert said driving forces of men who die by suicide are job loss, alcohol abuse, and what is called "death by despair."

"It's people who are not college educated, live in the lower economic status, and they see no hope."

Eggert said the majority of men who die by suicide use guns, and 50% of all suicides are impulsive.

"If we know that someone is at risk we can take the gun away, not forever, and it's not about gun control, it's about saving lives," she said. "We know most of the time there is not a 'Plan B' when it comes to suicide."

Eggert said a lot of the time male depression does not look like what most people think of depression.

"It could be anger, revenge-seeking, irritability, aggression," she said. "In our minds we're thinking 'what a jerk,' and that's not normal behavior for a man, we need to say 'what's going on, this is not like you."

She said if someone starts talking about death, starts isolating themselves, their substance use is increasing, or there is any type of behavior change, that is the time to ask someone if they are thinking about killing themselves.

"We have to care enough to get involved and ask about suicide," Eggert said. "If we ask in a caring nonjudgmental way, people will tell us. There is no harm, no foul, in asking that question. There is a lot of harm if we don't ask that question. Ask that question."

As part of our efforts to help with the Zero Suicides initiative, we want to also provide people with access to resources.

If you, a loved one, or a friend is having suicidal thoughts, or if you even think they could harm themselves or others, call the suicide prevention hotline at (800) 991-5272.

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