Why Men Kill Themselves Far More Often Than Women

Social perfectionism could be at work
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted May 17, 2015 7:29 AM CDT
Why Men Kill Themselves Far More Often Than Women
What drives far more men to suicide than women?   (Shutterstock)

"In every country in the world, male suicides outnumber female," writes Will Storr in Mosaic. And not by a little bit: In the world's most suicidal countries, the male suicide rate is often six or eight times the female rate (Quartz has a pretty staggering graphic here). "The mystery is why? What is it about being male that leads to this?" For Rory O'Connor, president of the International Academy of Suicide Research, part of the answer is what he calls "social perfectionism." It seems our definition of what a man is is "stuck in the 1950s," Storr writes—breadwinner, protector, stoic. And the absence or loss of that is devastating to men. “We’ve found this relationship between social perfectionism and suicidality in all populations where we’ve done the work,” says O'Connor, “including among the disadvantaged and the affluent.”

Some of the factors that O'Connor thinks are at work in a really complicated puzzle:

  • The sense that manhood can be lost: "When a woman becomes unemployed, it’s painful, but she doesn’t feel like she’s lost her sense of identity or femininity," says a clinical psychologist. "When a man loses his work he feels he’s not a man.” Echoes a psychologist: "A man who can’t provide for the family is somehow not a man anymore."
  • The man as an island: "The first rule is that you must be a fighter and a winner," says the clinical psychologist. "The second is you must be a provider and a protector; the third is you must retain mastery and control at all times." While this can benefit men generally in society, it isolates them further in their dark hours. "Although women might think about suicide very seriously,” says a Cambridge psych prof, “because of their social connectedness, they may also think, ‘My God, what will my kids do?’ So there’s forbearance from completing the act.”
  • Men are less likely to flinch: While more women attempt suicide, Stoll writes that in Western society, more men actually succeed. Some of this is due to method: Men often turn toward guns or hanging, while women often use pills. "You can’t act unless you also develop a fearlessness of death," says a Florida State prof, who says that men aren't as likely to "flinch."
The full piece is worth a read. (Meanwhile, the key to the US' "Suicide Belt" could be thin air.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.