Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in many nations. In the United States, it’s number 10. In Canada, it’s number 9 overall, but number 7 for men and number 14 for women. In the UK, it’s number 12. In many nations, there is an epidemic of what should be preventable deaths.
Some statistics on suicide
The numbers get worse once we dig deeper. According to Men’s Health, in the United States, "[s]uicide rates for men ages 45 to 64 jumped by 43 percent during (1999 through 2014).”
In Canada, the British Columbia Medical Journal reports, "Suicide is the second leading cause of potential years of life lost [PYLL] by men compared with women, reflecting both men’s higher rate of suicide and the relatively young age at which many suicide deaths occur. In Canada, suicide accounts for about 10 percent of all PYLL for men; in [British Columbia], it accounts for about 7 percent.”
Also disturbing is the fact that suicide among middle-aged men is on the rise not just in the U.S., but in British Columbia, as well. Men’s Health speculates that some of this is due to the increase in opioid addictions and overdoses, but also with increased pressure on men in that age group to work harder and earn more (particularly in the face of downsizing and layoffs), and societal pressure to "suck it up" and not complain or even seek help.
In the United Kingdom, the Guardian found that while the overall rate for mental disorders was 20 – 40 percent higher for women versus men, and the percentage of women who attempt suicide was greater than that of men by 7 percent for women versus 4 percent, the "success" rates told a different story: "Of the 5,981 deaths by suicide in the UK in 2012, more than three quarters (4,590) were males. In the US, of the 38,000 people who took their own lives in 2010, 79 percent were men.”
The gender gap in suicides
Why is the suicide rate higher in males?
One difference is alcohol and drug abuse. Men are more likely to have consumed alcohol before attempting suicide. Men are also more likely than women to abuse alcohol in the first place. Because alcohol reduces impulse control, a related issue could be deciding while under the influence, but not taking any time to think it through.
Another difference is support systems in general. Women, as a whole, tend to be more likely to seek medical treatment for not only mental disorders but physical ones, as well. Interaction with medical personnel can help to recognize a mental health issue, even if a woman is in a doctor’s office because she twisted her ankle. Women also tend to have greater friend and family support systems. For men, support systems tend to come attached to women — hence married men can have some degree of protection.
The real elephant in the room, though, is methodology. In the UK, suicide methods split as follows:
- Hanging, strangulation or suffocation (all highly lethal methods): 58 percent of male deaths by suicide; 36 percent of females
- Poisoning (including overdoses such as from opioids): 43 percent of female deaths by suicide: 20 percent of males.
In British Columbia, hanging was the most common method, used by 48 percent of male suicides and 38 percent of females.
And in the United States, suicide methods also split down gender lines, with 56 percent of male suicides involving firearms, compared with the most common method for females, poisoning (37.4 percent). Also, when women shot themselves, it tended to be in the body. But in the United States, when men shot themselves, it was more likely to be in the head.
Although not mentioned in the studies, some of this should be laid directly at the feet of the gun culture in America. According to CNN, gun-related suicides in the United States are eight times higher than in other high-income nations around the world. About 40 percent of American people live in a home with guns; about two-thirds of all gun owners in the U.S. owned multiple guns; and (shockingly, but not surprisingly) Americans own nearly half of all private guns worldwide.
With such a disparity in the genders when it comes to suicide, suicide prevention efforts should focus more on their efforts on men and their issues. Part of this should be destigmatizing the seeking of mental health treatment.
Another aspect should mean prevention, which can take the form of gun safety education and stricter gun laws. Teaching and legislation can go along with more resources for doctors so they can better recognize signs of opioid addiction. The same should happen with the signs of alcoholism. Doctors can also prescribe fewer medications in smaller amounts to make overdosing that much more challenging and expensive.
Another effort can be a cultural one, to address men’s depression, anxiety, and pressures directly in suicide prevention efforts. And to also reach out to men who are struggling and truly listen to them. Social connections are vital, and they can be protective.
Finally, all genders are at risk, but men are particularly vulnerable. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, talking about it, or engaged in "getting their affairs in order" types of behaviors, in the United States you or they can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. In the UK, contact Suicide.org. And in Canada, contact the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.
The bottom line: Death by suicide, among men and women, is preventable.