Men & Suicide: A Growing Issue
Suicide may not be easy to talk about, but the issue continues to grow, affecting as many as one million Americans and their families each year, including thousands of Texans.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), one American dies from suicide every 13 minutes, totaling around 40,000 people each year. One million people attempt suicide each year, leading to 836,000 emergency room visits from self-inflicted injuries. In Texas, six people die from suicide, and around 30 are hospitalized for suicide attempts each day.
To put these numbers in perspective, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Suicide accounts for more fatalities each year than those due to automobile accidents, as well as more deaths than homicide and AIDS combined. And while suicide affects all ages and races, men are affected at a much greater rate than women.
SAMHSA reported that 78 percent of deaths attributed to suicide in 2013 were males. According to the Education Development Center, 35 to 64-year old men account for 19 percent of the U.S. population, but 40 percent of U.S. suicide deaths.
Andrew Carlton, RN-BC, ACHE, administrator of Texas Health Resources’ new behavioral health hospital in Corinth, said there’s a reason why men are taking their lives at a rate of four times that of women.
“Women are far more open to treatment and medication so they have access to these things that can be life-saving,” he explained. “Men haven’t traditionally sought treatment because it’s not seen as ‘manly’ and they often resort to more lethal suicide means such as shootings or hangings, where women are more likely to overdose.
“In the last several years, we’ve seen a significant paradigm shift where mental illness has been brought to the public forefront, and we talk about topics like depression and suicide. The younger generation has been brought up in a culture where open and honest communication is the norm, but for men in their mid-30s and up, that just isn’t often done.”
A report by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) attributes much of the overall increase in the number of suicides in the U.S. to a jump in suicides by men in their “middle years” (35-64 age group). Men in this age group die by suicide at a much higher rate than both women or younger men and account for 50 percent of the U.S. male population, meaning they will make up a substantial percentage of the overall population for the next 25+ years. Additionally, they are unlikely to outgrow their risk of suicide, as the rate among men ages 65 and up is higher than that of men in the middle years.
A November blog post that addressed men and depression spoke to the problematic issue of gender expectations and the unrealistic societal “requirement” that men hide their emotions. The SPRC report also points to cultural expectations about masculine identity, which can reduce the effectiveness of suicide interventions and exacerbate risk factors, including mental disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, lack of access to behavioral health services and access to lethal means.
The expectations especially felt by men in their middle years include the following:
- Being independent and competent (not wanting to seek outside help)
- Concealing emotions (particularly those that signify vulnerability or weakness)
- Finding identity in being the family “breadwinner” (identity is challenged when he can’t provide financially for his family due to a lost job, reduction in pay, etc.)
“Many middle-aged men won’t talk about depression and suicide, so they don’t know what to do when their self-worth takes a big hit due to financial stressors or big relationship changes like a divorce,” Carlton said. “Men were told for decades how they were and weren’t supposed to act in times of crises. Thankfully a lot of that has gone by the wayside, and it’s become more acceptable to admit you are struggling or have a mental disorder. For many years, men just weren’t given the tools to know how to deal with those really hard things.”
The American Psychiatric Association provides the following warning signs of suicide:
- Often talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
- Making comments about being hopeless, helpless or worthless, or having no reason for living
- Withdrawal from friends, family and community
- Increased alcohol and/or drug misuse
- Reckless behavior or more risky activities, seemingly without thinking
- Dramatic mood changes
- Talking about feeling trapped or being a burden to others
- In some cases, an immediate stressor or sudden catastrophic event, failure or humiliation such as a relationship break-up, legal problems or financial problems (home foreclosure or job loss) can lead to suicide
Texas Health Resources is responding to the need for more behavioral health care in the North Texas area by expanding both inpatient and outpatient facilities. New inpatient hospitals are being built in Corinth and Mansfield, while intensive outpatient program (IOP) facilities are available in Flower Mound and Allen, among others. (Visit THR online to view a complete list of behavioral health facilities.)
Carlton said that if a family member or friend is struggling, the best thing his or her loved ones can do is speak up.
“If you notice someone having a hard time, don’t ignore it and speak openly because communication and maintaining contact is important,” he said. “Additionally, exercise has been proven to have the most success in decreasing depression. It’s the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling bad, but the benefits are incalculable.
“If a loved one is struggling, try to keep them active and involved, spend time together as a family and get some exercise by taking a walk together every night. When things get hard, family members have to step in and advocate for their loved one’s mental and physical health.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or other mental health issues, visit Texas Health Behavioral Health or call the helpline at 682-236-6023, which is available 24/7. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 800-273-TALK (8255) or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.