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How Do Men and Women Differ in Suicide?

By: Ashlee Stumpf, LPC

While working in a men’s group for the past four years, I have heard of numerous hardships. One which continues to strike me is the number of these men who had suicidal thoughts or made previous attempts to take their own life. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. According to the World Health Organization, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. As a result, much study has been done on the topic; figuring how why and who are likely to try to end their life. This research has shown the sex of the individual is often a major factor in the person’s reason and method. Suicide is an unpleasant topic, but sadly its numbers are steadily rising, which calls for a greater understanding if we are to counteract the trend.

It is first helpful to look at the general distinctions between men and women. The statistics on suicide gives some noteworthy insight into the differences among the sexes. Often, men have higher suicide rates than women. In 2018, men’s rate was 3.7 times the rate of women. This gap between men and women rates has existed since suicides were recorded. Some contribute men’s higher rate to traditional male gender roles discouraging men from discussing their feelings leading to increased isolation and despair. Other research studies have suggested a gender paradox of suicide. This meaning that while men are more likely to end their own lives, women are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts. This can include, “I wish I stopped waking up in the morning.” “People would be better off without me.” Or planning how they would take their life. Women are also more likely to attempt suicide than men, but men are more likely to be successful. The reasons for this will be discussed in the next paragraph.

Suicide Methods

The biggest difference in suicides between men and women is the method. Women are more likely to less lethal or more reversal methods than men. For example, women who attempt suicide will often overdose on medication, try drowning their self, or exsanguination. Approaches which can take time or possibly be reversed if help comes quickly. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to use firearms, hanging, or jumping off a high place when attempting to take their lives. These methods are much more instantaneous and don’t allow for second thoughts. There are many theories on why these two sexes differ. Some suggest people bend to gender stereotypes, with men wanting to show a level of “toughness” with more violent methods and women having cosmetic concerns of how their suicide may affect their appearance. Other research points out women are more likely than men to engage in deliberate self-harm (DSH) and some suicide attempts may be mislabeled, as the person engaging in the DSH not intended the act to end their lives. Another theory harkens back to the fact women who commit suicide think more about suicide than men. It is possible suicidal women are less impulsive than suicidal men. Whatever the reason, the patterns of approaches demonstrate a clear difference between these two sexes. 

Risk Factors and Warning Signs

Despite the sex of the person, it is important to know the common risk factors and warning signs of suicide. These factors can differ in importance to men and women but it’s vital to be aware of these signs.

Risk factors are situations and feelings common to those who attempt suicide. Situational risk factors include death of relative or friend, loss of job, being diagnosed with a major illness, end of a relationship, or when about to enter disciplinary proceedings. Strenuous situations which could happen to anyone. The other risk factors revolve around a person’s mental health. A person may be struggling with depression, addiction, or emotional changes, such as feeling hopeless, worthless, or like they are not in control of themselves. Behavior can also change, like a decline in work performance or interest in friends or activities previously enjoyed. Again, issues anyone can experience.

Warning signs of suicidal individuals:

  •       Constantly talking about death or wanting to end their life
  •       Development of a suicide plan
  •       Previous suicide attempts
  •       Giving away prized possessions or making a will
  •       Sudden mood swings
  •       Depression
  •       Self-isolating
  •       Statements about the world being better off without them or not wanting to live anymore

How to Get Help

If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts or going through a difficult time, do not hesitate to reach out for help. Not everyone who has suicidal thoughts wants to end their life but it’s always best to err on the side of caution. If the danger is imminent go to an emergency room. If you are looking to speak to someone immediately there is:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

(800) 273-8255

Available 24 hours in several languages 

Crisis Text Line

Text HOME to 741741

Free 24-hour texting support from crisis counselor 

If the danger is less imminent, feel free to seek out help from a counselor or psychologist. Many therapists at Symmetry Counseling, including myself, are accepting new clients and would like to help. Contact us for counseling in Chicago today.

Resources:

https://www.verywellmind.com/gender-differences-in-suicide-methods-1067508

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db362.htm

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