Men and suicide is a topic that desperately more attention than it receives. Men account for more than 75% of all suicides in the United States. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among men between the ages of 15 and 44. Every day, 74 men die by suicide in the United States, 27,127 in 2019. Just sit with that.
This article is an exploration of men’s experience with suicide. Here we will cover demographics, risk factors, media perceptions, it’s connection to prison & military, death by misadventure, “missing men,” and overdoes.
Demographics & Risk Factors
Demographics play a significant role in the risk of suicide among men. Men who identify as gay, bisexual, or transgender are at a higher risk of suicide, as are men who struggle with substance abuse or addiction. Low-income men are also more likely to commit suicide, as are men who have experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect in their lives.
It is true that suicide is often portrayed in the media as a women's issue, despite the fact that men account for the majority of suicides. This may be due in part to the fact that women are more likely to seek help for mental health issues and suicidal thoughts, making them more visible in terms of suicide prevention efforts. Though historically our cultures never bothered to work on men’s mental health beyond keeping men functioning for GDP. In modern times, men have also taken on more responsibilities leaving them much less leisure time to explore their thoughts.
The media also tends to focus on certain types of suicide, such as self-harm, which is more common among women. However, men are more likely to use lethal means to end their lives, which can make suicide prevention more challenging. Regardless, this lack of coverage tells men their problems don’t matter, even when it’s life or death.
Men are also less likely to seek help for mental health issues or suicidal thoughts, making them more vulnerable to the effects of depression and other mental health conditions. This is not men’s fault as we designed the health care horrifically in general. Plus, since most psychologists, therapists, and patients are women that leaves men pushed to the side accidentally.
Though it is a stereotype than men are emotionless, men who are abandoned in relationships are also at a higher risk of suicide. This can be due to the loss of a partner, the breakdown of a relationship, or the inability to cope with the emotional turmoil that comes with a breakup. It can also be due to a loss of purpose or will to live. Many men feel so deeply connected to their role as a family leader, a sudden loss of status can make life not worth living.
Prison & Jail
Jails and prisons are challenging environments for those struggling with mental health issues, and as a result, the risk of suicide is significantly higher in correctional institutions. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2018, the suicide rate in state prisons was 20 per 100,000 people, which is almost four times higher than the rate in the general population. In local jails, the suicide rate was even higher, at 40 per 100,000 people.
There are several reasons for this high rate of suicide. First, many inmates in correctional institutions have a history of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. Secondly, correctional facilities often provide inadequate mental health care to inmates, resulting in a lack of timely and appropriate treatment. Thirdly, some inmates who are identified as at risk of suicide may be placed in isolation, which can exacerbate existing mental health issues or trigger new ones.
Isolation can also make it more difficult for mental health professionals to monitor and treat inmates who may be at risk of suicide. Inmates who are on suicide watch or placed in a specialized housing unit designed to provide increased supervision and support may be at a reduced risk of suicide. However, these specialized housing units can also be challenging to implement due to limited resources, staffing issues, and other logistical challenges.
MILITARY & ARMY STARRS
Suicide is a significant issue in the military, where the suicide rate is higher than the general population. According to the Department of Defense, there were 326 active-duty suicides in 2018, which is a rate of 24.8 per 100,000 service members. This rate is significantly higher than the rate of 18.2 per 100,000 in the general population.
The high rate of suicide in the military can be attributed to several factors, including exposure to combat, traumatic brain injuries, and mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Military personnel may also experience social isolation, financial stress, and other challenges that can exacerbate existing mental health issues or trigger new ones.
The military has spent millions of dollars on suicide prevention programs and research to better understand the causes of suicide among military personnel. The Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS) is a research initiative that aims to identify risk and protective factors for suicide among Army personnel. The study involves a consortium of researchers from several universities, including the University of Michigan, where the Social Research and Evaluation Center has contributed to the study's data collection efforts. Based about 8 miles from U of M, I worked on this study for about 6-months back in 2016 – it was rough.
The Army STARRS study is one of the largest research efforts on military suicide and has yielded several important findings, including the increased risk of suicide among soldiers who have experienced combat or been exposed to other traumatic events. The study has also identified risk factors related to mental health, social support, and other factors that may contribute to suicide risk.
Misadventure & “Missing Men”
Men who die via misadventure and suicide are connected, as both involve behaviors that may reflect underlying struggles with mental health or emotional distress. Misadventure refers to accidental death resulting from a risky or reckless behavior, such as drug or alcohol use, drowning, or falls. Men are more likely to engage in these behaviors and suffer misadventure deaths. However, some misadventure deaths may be considered a form of suicide, as a significant number of men who die via misadventure have a history of depression or other mental health conditions, and some may engage in risky behaviors as a form of self-harm.
The "missing men" phenomenon refers to the trend of men's bodies being found in bodies of water all over the country, which has been observed for decades. Men are more likely than women to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as swimming in dangerous waters, or using alcohol or drugs, which can impair judgment and increase the risk of accidental drowning. However, there is evidence to suggest that some of these deaths may be intentional and related to suicide. A significant number of men who die by suicide do so by drowning. Water offers a peaceful and private place to end one's life, or drowning may provide a sense of control and relief from emotional pain.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2019, there were 70,630 drug overdose deaths in the United States, and approximately 60% of these deaths involved the use of opioids. Of these overdose deaths, men accounted for 67% or approximately 47,638 deaths, making drug overdose a significant public health concern for men.
Research has shown that men are more likely to use drugs and alcohol than women, and they may be less likely to seek help or treatment for substance abuse or addiction. Men are also more likely to use opioids than women, which may contribute to the higher rate of overdose deaths among men. The opioid epidemic has been particularly devastating for men, with young men between the ages of 25 and 34 at the highest risk of opioid overdose.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are resources available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) offers support and guidance to those who are feeling overwhelmed and in need of help. The Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741) is another resource that provides confidential support via text message. Remember, there is no shame in seeking help and support during tough times.