Why Women Survive

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

By Holly Parker, published March 1, 1999 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

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.