Men and Suicide

Talking about suicide to save lives

***TRIGGER WARNING***

This piece discusses suicide and suicidal ideation, and some people might find it disturbing. If you or someone you know is suicidal, please, contact your physician, go to your local ER, or call the suicide prevention hotline in your country. For the United States, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), or message the Crisis Text Line at 741741. Both services provide free, confidential support 24/7. You can also dial 911 in the U.S. for immediate help.

This piece will concentrate on how suicidality impacts men to honor suicide awareness month.

The Cold Statistics of Suicide Among Men

In April 2020, the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced some very alarming statistics. Suicide ranks number four in causes of death for people ages 35-54. Suicide ranks as the second leading cause of death of people ages 10-34 as well. In fact, between the years 1999-2018, the suicide rate increased by 35% for all people in the U.S. That is a massive jump in deaths by suicide in the U.S.  Suicide has become the tenth leading cause of death among all ages in the U.S., including men, women, and children. 

The CDC got their information for their new report from the National Vital Statistics System that updates the trends in suicide death rates to describe differences by sex, urbanicity, county, and age group.

Also, according to the CDC, in 2017:

  • Nearly half of all male deaths are caused by suicide, and that rate is 3.5 times higher than for women.
  • The suicide rate is highest among middle-aged white men ranking at 70% of all completed suicides in that year.
  • Men over the age of 65 have the most significant risk for suicide.

Clearly, we need to open a dialogue about men dying by suicide to end the carnage and ease the pain. 

Why are Our Men Dying by Suicide?

More men die by suicide than women that we have established. But why? Why are men so vulnerable to taking their own lives? There are several factors involved, including man of the ones talked about in the following paragraphs.

Gender roles prevent emotional expression. Men believe and are taught by society that they must be tough no matter what and never ask for help. We discourage boys from crying and look down on men who weep as weak. If a man goes to a therapist for help, they must keep it a secret because they can face ridicule from other men. This stigma keeps men suffering in silence until one day; they can no longer stand the pain.

Men are more likely to self-medicate. Gentlemen are more likely to attempt to treat their anxiety and depression with alcohol or drugs, both legal and illegal. Instead of helping them, though, these substances create more depression and anxiety.

Men are underdiagnosed with depression. Men often choose not to disclose their depression to their doctor, and when they do, they are vague about their symptoms. Due to stigma, men often describe their feelings as stress rather than feeling hopeless or sad. Men are likely not going to disclose to their doctor other mental health issues because they must, in their minds, remain strong and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Misdiagnosis. Doctors diagnose men with other problems than ones that are mental health-related. This is especially true if the man is going to see a male doctor. Men might be told they are overworked or need a vacation than referred for treatment with a mental health professional.     

The Risk Factors of Suicide in Men

Certain flags and risk factors accompany suicidal ideation, attempts, and completions. The most common risk factors are:

  • Living alone
  • Social isolation
  • Using drugs or other substances to cope
  • Lack of meaningful relationships
  • A history of childhood abuse of any type
  • A divorce or relationship break up
  • Unemployment
  • Being bullied
  • Imprisonment
  • Loss of a loved one

In older men, add the following to your list of risk factors to watch for:

  • Older men experiencing depression
  • Older men experiencing pain or illness
  • Men of an older age experiencing feelings of hopelessness and guilt
  • Older men living alone

The Signs Someone is Thinking About Suicide

It is impossible to predict all the signs of an impending suicide. However, there are many signs that a man in your life may be in trouble.

Self-Harming or Dangerous Behavior. If someone you know or love exhibits dangerous behavior such as engaging in unsafe sex, increased use of drugs or alcohol, these could be potential signs of an impending suicide. This statement is true because all are signs that the person no longer values their life.   

Excessive Sadness or Moodiness. These symptoms may include feeling sad for a long time (usually more than two weeks), mood swings, and rage that is unexpected and out of character.

Feeling Hopelessness and Helplessness. Victims may feel like their life is out of their control, bringing on extreme feelings of being hopeless and helpless.

Sleep Disturbances. Having the inability to get to sleep or stay asleep can be a sign that someone is thinking about suicide. Sleeping too much is also a sign. 

Changes in Attitude, Behavior, or Appearance. People considering suicide may show a change in their attitude or behavior, such as moving and speaking slowly. They may take less care of their appearance.

Threatening or Talking About Suicide. It is a myth that people who talk about harming themselves will not. From 50%-75% of those considering dying by suicide tell a family member or friend. Every threat of suicide must be taken seriously. That having been said, it is critical to remember that not everyone who considers suicide will speak about it beforehand. Also, not all people who speak about suicide follow through or attempt it. 

Withdrawal. Choosing to avoid friends and social activities while remaining alone is a possible sign of depression, which is a leading cause of suicide. Watch for loss of interest or pleasure in activities they previously enjoyed.

Making Plans to Die. People who are considering suicide will often make plans and put their personal business in order. This behavior may also include giving away possessions, cleaning their room or home, or visiting with estranged family members or friends. Another sign could be that your friend or loved one suddenly decides to purchase a firearm.  

Recent Trauma or Loss. A major crisis in one’s life might trigger suicidal thoughts and actions. These crises may include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Divorce
  • A break-up
  • Death of a loved one
  • Death of a pet
  • Receiving a traumatic diagnosis
  • Loss of a job or career
  • Financial problems

A calmness that Happens Suddenly. After a period of moodiness, anger, or depression can be a sign that the person might have decided to die by suicide.

Financial Insecurity Caused by COVID19 and Male Suicide

In the United States, men have always thought of themselves as the breadwinners of the household. In fact, men are pressured to become and remain employed despite having mental or physical health problems.

During COVID19, many men, especially emerging adult males, find themselves laid-off, fired, or losing their position due to the restrictions from the pandemic. Thus, their traditional encouragement by society to always be employed has become impossible.

Suicide for all ages is increasing and is expected to increase due to the job losses and financial insecurities brought on by the epidemic.

What Can We Do to Prevent Male Suicide?

As has been stated, suicide ranks number four in causes of death for people 35-54 years old and the second cause of males aged 10-34. Hopefully, you found those statistics shocking and unacceptable.

But what can you, as an individual citizen, do to end the tragedy of male suicide? There are at least four things.

  1. Do not remain silent. Start a dialogue with your young men and your community to bring suicide out of the darkness and into the light.
  2. Ask questions. If you are worried about someone’s state of mind, ask them to be truthful about how they are feeling. Don’t be afraid to ask them point-blank if they have been having thoughts of suicide.   
  3. Get your facts straight. Memorize the statistics for male death by suicide and share them wherever you can. People must be made aware of how insidious this problem is and that it may get much worse.
  4. Take decisive action. If someone you know or even a stranger is threatening to die by suicide, always take them seriously and call for help. It makes no difference whatsoever if they are angry with you or not; at least they will remain alive.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are steps to take if someone has attempted to die by suicide. I quote:

  • Don’t leave the person alone.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number right away. Or, if you think you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room yourself.
  • Try to find out if he or she is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or may have taken an overdose.
  • Tell a family member or friend right away what’s going on.

If a friend or loved one talks or behaves in a way that makes you believe he or she might attempt suicide, don’t try to handle the situation alone:

Get help from a trained professional as quickly as possible. The person may need to be hospitalized until the suicidal crisis has passed.

Encourage the person to call a suicide hotline number. In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.

The Bottom Line

Working together as a society, we can alleviate the pain of male suicide and hopefully even stop it in its tracks. It will take a team effort with all players becoming aware of suicide, what causes it, and what to do in case of a suicide attempt.

Only by speaking loudly and clearly in public about suicide can we end this scourge and once and for all. Above all else, though, we as a society must learn to treat men as the emotional beings they are and end the stigma of them reaching out for help.

Suicide is an enemy we must defeat together.

“Unless you’re involved with thinking about what you’re doing, you end up doing the same thing over and over, and that becomes tedious and, in the end, defeating.” Sol LeWitt

References

Increase in Suicide Mortality in the United States, 1999–2018, (2020). Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db362.htm

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