Posted in Gender, Mental Health

Suicide rates between the genders

UK suicide statistics

Nisra.gov.uk

In view of my post last week about the attempted suicides of Paris Jackson and Stephen Fry, I wanted to understand better why the reported rates of suicide are four times higher for men than for women. I went to a regular and well-known science press release site, Science Daily to see if any recent research could shed light on the matter.

This is what I found and I can’t believe the nonsense political rhetoric present in this research. What some of the researchers have said boil down to this:

In the past, researchers who looked at the high rate of attempted suicide in women concluded that women were just not as efficient as men at taking their own lives.

Basically: “Women are a bit rubbish at committing suicide.”

“Women process their experiences with friends. They discuss their feelings, seek feedback and take advice,” Murphy says. “They are much more likely to tell a physician how they feel and cooperate in the prescribed treatment. As a result, women get better treatment for their depression.”

Basically: “Men are emotionally retarded.”

Murphy believes women are less inclined to commit suicide because their thinking is more inclusive. While a man might tend to throw aside seemingly peripheral issues to get to the core of a problem, a woman might take more things into account. She may continue to seek input and process problems long after the point where men decide on a course of action.

Basically: “Men are selfish.”

But anyway, rant about an imaginery “battle of the sexes” fought along perverse lines of mental health aside I found some interesting key points in this article. Apparently women are far less likely to commit suicide because they are more likely to talk about problems; I find this statement very difficult to tally with the statement in the text that women are far more likely to attempt suicide. Is it just me or is the former statement contradicted by the latter?

Moving on to this article I found the following statement surprising.

Unemployment was the strongest social risk factor among women, whereas being single was the strongest among men.

Because I genuinely thought it would be the other way around: the traditional roles whether we accept them and agree with them or not is man the breadwinner and woman the homemaker. Taking such generalisations, it would make sense that a woman in her forties considering herself permanently on the shelf and a man long-term unemployed – both having the traditional role out of their lives, would be the highest risk, wouldn’t you?

And going back to the original paper where it suggested that women are far more likely to talk about problems and visit a Doctor, this little statistic shows that there is only a marginal difference between the genders in seeking help before suicide:

Of those who committed suicide, 29.5% of women and 21.7% of men had visited a doctor in the two weeks prior to their suicide, and 57.1% of women and 44.9% of men had visited a doctor within the 13 weeks prior to their suicide.

And this newspaper article challenges another claim:

It seems to be accepted that men just won’t ask for help or therapy. Calm’s phonelines tell a different story. We’ve found that if you promote a service aimed at men, in a manner that fits with their lifestyle and expectations, they will ask for help. We struggle to keep up with demand.”

Intriguing… blows both myths right out of the water.

On a final note from that Guardian Article:

We believe that if we are to combat suicide we have to ensure that all men are aware of the symptoms of depression and feel able to access help without being seen as less of a man for doing so. If boys can’t talk about stuff but girls can then we should tackle this. If men can’t get to their surgery because it’s closed during the working week, then address this. Risk assessments need to reflect gender diversity and women need to be aware of the symptoms of depression in men. We need to challenge the idea that a “strong and silent” man is desirable and challenge the notion that men talking, showing emotion and being “sensitive” is weak.

That article was written by a woman and she seems to blame her own gender for this issue. Though I see her point, it is too simplistic. We are all equally guilty of having that expectation of stoicism from men. My own father is the perfect example of that. I am convinced that I suffered depression from an early age – I woke up some mornings feeling nothing but despair and I had no good reason to feel that way. Yet rather than talking to me or listening to me or – hell – taking me to the family GP I was told to “man up”, “don’t be such a girl” and other such expressions of fatherly love.

The Samaritans have some statistics and fact sheets here

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Author:

I go by the name of Frank Speaking. My blog "In the Mind of Men" (former name Chin Up, Chest High) started out as a chronicle of my mental health recovery. Now it is a forum where I discuss issues related to male mental health.

3 thoughts on “Suicide rates between the genders

  1. All interesting points. I remember doing a book report about this in high school and the main thing I remember was that more women attempted suicide but more men were successful mainly because they took more aggressive (and sometimes violent) measures that helped them succeed. While girls would most likely take pills or slit their wrists the wrong way (more passive).
    I think the emotional factor is also important. Women are encouraged to express their feelings and release them. Also, after divorce more men get more depressed because they lose their kids and wife and house usually and then are expected to suck it up and be okay about it.
    In the end I think it crosses both sexes’ minds, probably at an equal rate, it just depends on what they do about it.

    1. I think the issue is far more complicated than these articles suggest. Also we can only generalise so much before you get onto quite shaky ground.

      1. Yeah. Which is why I hate reading research; contradictory (which you pointed out in your post) and only focuses on certain things, depending on who’s writing it and why.

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