Understanding Suicide Among Men

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In This Article

In recent years, there has been a steady increase in the numbers of men who elect to end their own lives prematurely through suicide. While women tend to experience more suicidal thinking, men are far more likely to die by suicide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that over 47,000 people died by suicide in 2017 in the U.S. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death overall. In 2015, suicide was the seventh leading cause of death for all U.S. men, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Suicide is a serious problem in the U.S. and worldwide, but there is hope. Here are some important things to understand about suicide among men and what you can do if you are a loved one are having hopeless feelings or having thoughts about suicide.

Statistics

  • In 2017, the suicide rate for men was 3.5 times higher than it was for women
  • The suicide rate is highest among middle-aged white men, who accounted for almost 70% of all suicides in 2017
  • Research also suggests that while women attempt suicide more often, men choose more lethal means of suicide
  • The World Health Organization reports that suicide represents half of all male violent deaths worldwide
  • Men over the age of 65 are at the greatest risk of suicide

Risk Factors

Not every attempt at suicide results in completion, although unsuccessful first attempts are often followed by successful second attempts.

The most common risk factors for suicide are:

  • Using drugs and/or alcohol to help cope with emotions, relationships, the pressure of work or other issues
  • Social isolation or living alone
  • Not being able to form or sustain meaningful relationships
  • Divorce or relationship breakdowns
  • A history of physical and sexual abuse
  • Imprisonment
  • Being bullied at school, college or work
  • Unemployment
  • Loss of a loved one through trauma or disease
  • Mental illness, particularly where this is related to depression and painful or debilitating illnesses or conditions

In older men, suicide is most strongly associated with depression, physical pain and illness, living alone, and feelings of hopelessness and guilt.

Explanations

In addition to the above risk factors, there are some other theories as to why men are at a greater risk of suicide.

  • Traditional male gender roles discourage emotional expression. Men are told they need to be tough and that they should not need to ask for help. Such rigid gender norms may make it difficult for men to reach out and ask for support when they need it.
  • Depression may be underdiagnosed in men. Men do not often disclose feelings of depression to their doctors. When they do, it is often described in terms of having problems at work or in relationships. Men also tend to describe their feelings as "stress" rather than sadness or hopelessness.
  • Men are less likely to seek help for emotional problems. Researchers suggest that depression is diagnosed less frequently in men because of the tendency to deny illness, to self-monitor symptoms, and to self-treat.
  • Men may be more likely to self-treat symptoms of depression with alcohol and other substances.

Men are also more likely to use lethal suicide methods.

Prevention

There are strategies that both individuals and communities can utilize to help reduce the risk of male suicide. 

  • Watch for signs of depression. Symptoms of depression in men include irritability, social withdrawal, anxiety, loss of interest or pleasure, physical pains and complaints, engaging in risky behaviors, misusing drugs and alcohol, and being unable to keep up with normal daily tasks.
  • Off support. If you notice signs of depression, ask what you can do to help and let him know that you are there to listen and help.
  • Don't ignore the signs. Avoid dismissing or making light of comments that indicate suicidal thoughts or behaviors. If you hear suicidal talk or statements, encourage the individual to talk to his doctor or therapist.

Emotional and practical support is important for helping people to adjust their circumstances in order to restore well-being. The warning signs listed above do not inevitably lead to suicide attempts.

However, people who feel suicidal often report a certain kind of tunnel vision, of being unable to see the broader picture and thinking only in terms of black and white. In such circumstances, that individual may not be motivated to seek out help for themselves, and it often falls on others to offer support by listening, offering encouragement, and sometimes even challenging the preconceptions that people hold about themselves such as their abilities and worth to society.

Other ways to help reduce male suicide:

  • Identify men who are at risk and offer support
  • Teach men coping and problem-solving skills to help them manage challenges with work, relationships, and health issues
  • Make mental health support options readily available
  • Create opportunities that bring groups of people together so that they can form social connections and find support
  • Restrict access to lethal means of suicide, such as firearms and prescription drugs

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Mental Health found that receiving support from a trusted and respected friend can be an effective suicide prevention strategy for men. Forming connections with other people who are going through the same thing can also be helpful. 

Reframing help-seeking is also important. Men avoid asking for help because they fear it is a sign of weakness. Finding ways to change this perspective is a critical aspect of reducing male suicide rates. The 2019 study also found that reframing help-seeking as masculine behavior increases the likelihood that men will ask for help when they need it.

Getting Help

Getting help for people expressing suicidal intent or showing the warning signs is incredibly important. Help is available from a number of different sources, including family doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, voluntary organizations, community mental health centers, local hospitals, or social agencies.

There are effective treatments for depression. Psychotherapy, antidepressants, and often a combination of both can be effective in reducing symptoms of depression and lowering the risk of suicide.

If you believe someone is in imminent danger, call 911 and do not leave them alone. And if you are struggling personally, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a free and confidential service available to all people 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

A Word From Verywell

Symptoms of depression may manifest differently in men than in women, which may explain why signs are often missed by loved ones and physicians. Cultural expectations can also play a role in why men fail to seek help when they are feeling hopeless or suicidal. Fortunately, there are treatments available that can help men learn to cope, feel better, and get back to their usual selves.

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