Are Men or Women at Greater Risk for Suicide?
Research reveals the gendered nature of suicide risk factors.
Posted Aug 10, 2020
Most of us know someone who has tragically ended their own life. Some people have lost a loved one or professional peer; others have followed news reports detailing the suicides of celebrities or other public figures. Every case is heartbreaking, but they all raise similar questions and concerns, with the ultimate goal of prevention. One of those questions when assessing suicide risk is whether gender matters.
Gender and Suicide Risk
Do more men than women take their own lives? Studies that have examined this question, instead of simply answering yes or no, tend to conclude that discussing gender-specific factors related to suicidal tendencies may help. Kandice M. Perry et al. (2019) note that in most countries, men make up substantially more suicide deaths than women, which establishes masculine gender-related personality (MGP) traits as a risk factor.[i]
They explain that according to the “Interpersonal Theory of Suicide,” acquired capability for suicide (ACS) is required to take one’s life. Studying 149 college students, they found that MGP traits were linked with increased ACS for both men and women. They report that physical aggression mediated the relationships between both stoicism and sensation seeking and ACS, but they note that gender did not moderate these associations, which they explain seems to suggest similar patterns for both genders.
In another study, Nicholas A. Fadoir et al. (2019) investigated the role of gender in moderating the link between “masculine socialization pressures of restrictive emotionality and suicide risk through suicide capability,” for example fearlessness regarding death.[ii]
Studying a sample of 194 people admitted for suicidality, they found that fearlessness of death mediated the relationship between “endorsement of the masculine gender norm of restrictive emotionality and suicide risk” in women, although not in men. They further found that gender did not moderate the link between “restrictive emotionality” and fearlessness of death. Explaining the differing gender effects, they propose that the masculine gender norm of restrictive emotionality is linked with suicide capability in both women and men, and acquired fearlessness of death is more revealing of suicide risk in women, rather than men.
Post Pandemic Suicide and Gender
Katerina Standish, in “A Coming Wave: Suicide and Gender After Covid-19” (2020) suggests that suicides will increase after the pandemic, and the rate may depend on gender.[iii] She notes that studies indicate that due to intense lockdowns, suicide is suppressed by the pandemic, but will increase afterward. Regarding gender, she writes that males, who account for approximately 75 percent of suicides,” may respond to rising rates of substance use, unemployment, anxiety, isolation and trauma with deliberate killing.”
Standish states that consequently, it is important to understand and anticipate not only the future wave of suicide but also how gender might play a role. She describes suicide as an “extremely gendered human activity,” and states that women continue to be impacted. She notes that women and girls have a much higher rate of attempted suicide than men and boys, although they are also vulnerable to becoming potential suicide-homicide victims, with current or past male partners as the perpetrators.
She explains how post-pandemic suicide will not impact men and women in the same way. She describes how men will feel the pressure of “‘breadwinner’ stress,” women who are victims of domestic violence might try to escape and be killed, and all individuals who are suffering from stress, depression, anxiety, mental illness, or social isolation will likely confront the additional challenge of communities whose resources have been depleted by COVID-19.
Standing Strong Together to Save Lives
Although different studies demonstrate different things when it comes to the potentially gendered nature of suicide risk, one place we can all agree is that by equipping ourselves with the knowledge of discernible risk factors and best practices for intervention, we can stand together, ready to address the potential for suicide in both genders, with the goal of prevention. When we all remain vigilant, striving to both see and support those who might be at risk, we can work together to anticipate and mobilize resources and support in order to save lives.
[i] Perry, Kandice M., Stephanie E. Stacy, and Carolyn M. Pepper. 2019. “Masculine Gender-Related Personality Traits and Acquired Capability for Suicide.” Death Studies, December. doi:10.1080/07481187.2019.1699206.
[ii] Fadoir, Nicholas A., Shane T. W. Kuhlman, and Phillip N. Smith. 2019. “Suicide Risk and Restricted Emotions in Women: The Diverging Effects of Masculine Gender Norms and Suicide Capability.” Archives of Suicide Research, June. doi:10.1080/13811118.2019.1599480.
[iii] Standish, Katerina. 2020. “A Coming Wave: Suicide and Gender after Covid-19.” Journal of Gender Studies, July. doi:10.1080/09589236.2020.1796608.