Suicide Prevention in Men
Men are much more likely than women to die by suicide. Statistics show the suicide rate for men is 3.5 to 3.9 times higher than it is for women in any given year.
Why is this?
Experts believe cultural norms surrounding masculinity have much to do with it. They believe men are more emotionally detached and uninterested in feelings and are thus more likely to avoid available mental health support systems.
Another piece of research shows that while women generally have more suicidal thoughts, men die by suicide far more frequently.
A spotlight was shone on this gender paradox with the 2018 death of Anthony Bourdain, a beloved celebrity chef, author and world traveler. While it’s unknown exactly why Bourdain took his life, his death served as a somber reminder that men make up a disproportionate share of the large number of those who tragically die by suicide.
In 2020, 47,979 Americans died of suicide, making it the 12th leading cause of death in the country, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. That amounts to 130 suicides per day. Men account for about two thirds of those deaths.
Limited research into the matter suggests men are encouraged to be tough and emotionally independent. Gender norms embed in men a do-it-yourself approach to depression and other psychological issues.
As a result, some men are less likely to seek professional treatment as an off-ramp to emotional problems, a choice that in some cases can put them on the road to suicide. This “man up” mantra is discouraged by mental health advocates. The issue has become so acute you can now buy T-shirts on Amazon that read “It’s OK To Talk About It,” an unequivocal reference to this haunting mental health problem.
Unfortunately, the trend in male suicides is headed in the wrong direction. According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicides among men climbed by about 2 percent per year from 2006 to 2017. From a broader perspective, male suicides increased by 26% since 1999.
Suicide is preventable and everyone can play a role to save lives. One important way is to watch for signals in other people and encourage them to get help. The National Institute of Mental Health provides the following list of warning signs:
- Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
- Talking about feeling empty or hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
- Feeling unbearable emotional or physical pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Giving away important possessions
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
- Putting affairs in order, such as making a will
- Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
- Talking or thinking about death often
Other serious warning signs that someone may be at risk for attempting suicide include:
- Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
- Making a plan or looking for ways to kill themselves, such as searching for lethal methods online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
- Talking about feeling great guilt or shame
- Using alcohol or drugs more often
- Acting anxious or agitated
- Changing eating or sleeping habits
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
If you’re concerned that a relative or friend is contemplating suicide, it’s important to encourage them to seek treatment. And, by all means, if you harbor thoughts of suicide, reach out immediately.
Because men are reluctant to talk about mental health, make an effort to break the ice. One study on male suicide prevention strategies revealed that men respond well to guidance from a trusted individual. They tend to be open to forming connections with others who have similar experiences. Helping someone with the issue often involves reframing help-seeking as masculine. The study was cited in an article published by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Another method of reducing male suicide is through restricting access to lethal means, specifically firearms.
The NAMI article notes that you shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to acquaintances or work colleagues who appear to be struggling with mental health issues.
Treatments and therapies
If you or someone you are with is in a suicidal crisis situation, immediately call a suicide prevention hotline. The National Suicidal Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. A trained counselor should be available to help.
For non-emergencies, effective, evidence-based interventions and treatments are available on an outpatient basis. They include:
- Medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotic medications, anti-anxiety medications and other medications for mental illness can help reduce symptoms, which can help you feel less suicidal.
- Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, in which psychological methods, such as regular discussions with a mental health professional to help a patient change thought processes in a way that increases happiness and addresses underlying problems.
- Addiction treatment, which can include detoxification and self-help group meetings.
- Education programs, which often involve family members and friends, can open lines of communication and help patients use coping mechanisms.
Learn more about psychiatry and behavioral health services at Ochsner.