Why Women Survive

In women, "failed" suicides may be cry for help.

By Holly Parker, published on March 1, 1999 - last reviewed on August 30, 2004

Statistics show that women attempt suicide between five and 100
times more often than men, but men actually kill themselves five times
more frequently. The common conclusion? That women do not have the
resolve or the courage to successfully plan and follow through with a
suicide.

George Murphy, M.D., a psychiatrist at the Washington University
School of Medicine, has turned this interpretation on its head: women, he
believes, actually have a great emotional strength which protects them
from going through with the act.

In a recent study, Murphy notes that the seeming ineptitude of
women planning their own demise stems from the fact that most of their
suicide attempts are not "failed"--they're efforts at communication.
Women are much more willing to talk about their feelings and accept help
from others, says Murphy; they derive confidence from their social
networks. So their suicide attempts are usually intended as a sign of
distress, a cry for help. Thus, they are much more likely to make
provisions for their rescue and to employ a slow means of taking their
lives, like a drug overdose.

Also, Murphy explains, "women take much more into account when it
comes to taking their lives." They are likely to consider concerns
outside of themselves, such as how a suicide would affect loved
ones.

Unfortunately, Murphy believes, the same traits which lend women
strength are Interpreted as indecisiveness and weakness in men. While
women seem to have the social prerogative to change their minds, men are
considered deficient if they decide not to go through with
suicide.

Reluctant to reveal their despair, says Murphy, men tend to wall
themselves off from potential assistance in their time of need.