Suicide and Traditional Male Roles
According to the CDC, males die by suicide nearly four times the rate of females and represent 77.9% of all suicides. In addition, suicide is the seventh leading cause of death for males and the fourteenth leading cause for females. From an outsider’s point of view, it’s surprising. In stereotypical terms, females are seen as emotional while males are seen as stoic. Results from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that females are more likely than males to have suicidal thoughts. One would think that being highly emotional and having suicidal thoughts would lead females to being more inclined to suicide, but that’s not the case. There are reasons why there is a higher suicide rate for males than for females.
Pressured to Not Show Emotions
Males experience stigma in expressing emotions as a result of being perceived as weak and being “girly.” For instance, research participant, Adam quotes, “I think we’re afraid to not to seem weak. We’re afraid of seeming weak. We’re afraid of seeming weak or something. Because we have this image of seeming macho, we have to have the image of not being girls.”
Masculinity denotes clearly stated rules about communication with male friends. Interaction between males involved particular performances that did not include emotions or feelings. These social constructions influence males not to tell their loved ones about their distress or to seek out emotional help. In one study, males did not tell their loved ones about their distress in order to protect them and they did not seek professional help-especially talk therapy- because they had a little faith it. Study participant, Richard states, “ I don’t really know where it gets you. You’re still in the same place.” This expression hints at the pressure to conform to masculinity value of non-disclosure of emotions.
Suicide and Masculinity
There is evidence that highlights the differences between suicidal behavior in men and women. Males will likely attempt suicide through hanging, vehicle exhaust gas, asphyxiation and firearms. In contrast, women prefer self-poisoning. This results from the pressures of masculinity for men to dismiss symptoms of ill health, take more risks, and adopt traditional values of being the “stronger” sex which can increase their likelihood of participating in lethal suicidal behavior. Women engage less in lethal suicidal behavior due to their choice of self-poison and surviving suicide attempts. Also, males surviving a suicidal act is perceived as “weak,” and suicide in itself is seen as less wrong among men in comparison to women.
There is also an increase in men dying by suicide because of their restricted social networks in comparison to women. When a traumatic event happens, women are willing to get help and turn to their family and friends. In contrast, men are pressured to be independent and dismissive of their emotions, which leads them to them being prone to the emotional lows of traumatic events.
Another concern that effects the rates of suicide in males is the changing landscape of gender roles. More men now are occupying the stay at home role that traditionally was reserved for women. Even though gender roles are shifting, males are still pressured to abide by traditional masculinity. Males experience greater pressure to express traditional masculinity roles, while females have great flexibility to express femininity.
Suicide prevention often forgets to take in account of how gender affects suicide. For instance in the U.S., the Department of Health and Human Service’s National Strategy and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention does not address the gender specific needs of dealing with males and females who are feeling suicidal.
In England, the Department of Health, in 2002, launched the Suicide Prevention Strategy. This program addressed the needs of specific subgroups in the population with a higher than average suicide risk-which included young men and prisoners. The program highlighted ways men’s mental health was associated with toxic gender practices that included lack of understanding emotions and reluctance to use mental health services due to perceptions of stigma, lack of confidentiality and the general idea that therapists lack care.
Male suicide rates are not going to change if public health ignores the ways how gender affects mental health-both positive and negative. General advice such as talking to a therapist, talking to friends and family, medication, etc. is not going to change male behavior if pressures of traditional masculinity still exist. Instead a combination of addressing specific gender mental health needs along side deconstructing the pressures of traditional masculinity will reduce male suicidal behavior.
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