Over the last few weeks, you may have seen a host of articles and videos about how the suicide rate in the U.S. has taken a relatively large jump in the last year (2022 being the most current year for complete data). According to the CDC, the total number of suicides for 2022 was almost 50,000 (49,449 to be exact). On average, 133 suicides are committed every day. (You can read some of those articles here, here, and here.)
There was, however, one glaring omission as the pundits, therapists, and politicians addressed the topic: Who, exactly, is committing suicide? The answer may surprise you. As the mother of four sons (and one wonderful son-in-law) I was rather shocked and dismayed. Here’s the omitted stat: 80 percent of the individuals who take their own lives are men. Eighty percent! (22.8 males versus 5.7 females per 100,000)
A CNN article addressed the suicide rate increase, but made no clear mention, anywhere, that men are 80 percent of those suicide deaths – just that “gun-related suicides were the driving factor behind the recent rise in suicide rates overall” and men use guns for suicide more often than women. There is reference to the fact that women comprise the highest rate of “attempted” suicides, but no mention of the huge percentage of people who are tragically successful at taking their own lives – men.
A Good Morning America segment, addressing the topic, made it a point to mention that “doctors, veterans, and LGBTQ youth” were at higher risk of suicide, but avoided mentioning the group of people who are most at risk – men. The segment does mention that for every suicide death there are 135 additional people who are directly affected – that’s 6.5 million Americans. This is certainly an issue that deserves our attention and best efforts.
Putting it into perspective
During the entire 19-year span of the Vietnam war, 58,000 American men died. If you’re older than age 50, you may remember the death toll being displayed every evening on the 5 o’clock news. Yet over 39,000 men die every year from suicide and what do we hear about it? Crickets. I did find one article stating that the suicide rate of men is four times that of women. I’m grateful for that clarification. But, how much more powerful, to get this country focused on the real problem, would it be to clearly state 80 percent of all suicide deaths are male.
Over the course of the last 10 years, on average, about 10,850 people die each year in drunk-driving incidents and as a country we’ve spent massive amount of time and public service campaigns, including passage of laws, all to stamp out drunk driving – and rightly so; it is a terrible tragedy. But what about the 39,000+ men who die every year from suicide? Where is the focus on how men factor into this calamity?
Why might men be so dramatically over-represented in suicide rates?
Some reasons might include:
- Research from 2021 done by The Survey Center on American Life found that men are increasingly lonely. One in five single men found they do not have one person in their lives they consider a close friend. The words suicidal men are most likely to use to describe how they feel are “useless” and “worthless.”
- Tests by the Program for International Student Assessment find boys are falling behind girls in almost every academic area in more than 60 of the largest developed nations.
- Over sixty percent of college graduates are women – less than 40 percent are male. (“Degrees Conferred by Race and Sex,” National Center for Educational Statistics https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=72)
- Men dominate the 20 most dangerous, low-paying professions. When it comes to being crushed, mutilated, electrocuted, or mangled at work, men are at a distinct disadvantage. Over ninety percent of the 5000 American workers who die from workplace accidents each year are male. (S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, in cooperation with state, New York City, District of Columbia, and federal agencies, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, April 21, 2016. https://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/cftb0292.pdf)
- Our sons, husbands, and fathers die at a younger age than women from fourteen out of fifteen leading causes of death. (National Center for Health Statistics, CDC, National Vital Statistics Report 64, no. 2 (2016): table B, p. 5)
- Males have a larger prevalence of substance use disorders and antisocial behaviors and are less likely to be insured and seek help for all physical and mental health challenges.
- In addition, seventy percent of all divorces are initiated by women. Research indicates life after divorce for men is more traumatic than it is for women, taking a more significant emotional toll as well as sparking physical deterioration. Men don’t get to see their children as often; the mother is usually granted primary custody and the man limited custody; creating the dreaded reality of becoming a “weekend dad.” Men are more than twice as likely to suffer post-divorce depression. Anxiety and hypertension are common in men after divorce, which can result in substance abuse and suicide. Ten divorced men commit suicide in the U.S. each day.
Several months ago, United Families published an article explaining the high levels of violence perpetrated upon males, especially domestic violence – a phenomena that is rarely mentioned. If you didn’t see that article, you can find it here (Women Abusing Men: The Victims You’ve Not Heard About); for those of you who did, it is definitely worth re-reading.
What are we to do?
Ninety-four percent of Americans believe that suicide can be prevented, but how can it be prevented if our academics, medical community, politicians, pundits, and the public in general cannot even speak clearly about who is at highest risk of suicide?
There appears to be a mind-set among media and those who claim to be searching for solutions to the high rates of suicide, that if men, as a group, are highlighted and focused on, that somehow it will diminish women and detract from their needs and their progress. But can’t we care about the needs of both sexes?
“I often think in politics you face this implicit sense that compassion or concern is zero sum, that to care about one group or one issue is to care less about another. I just don’t believe that. I actually think there’s evidence it is not true. Compassion is not measured out in teaspoons from a cup. It is quite the opposite. I think it’s much more of a habit, something we get better at, something we have more capacity for, the more we practice it.”
I make no claim as to having the solution to suicide, in general, let alone male suicide. The reasons people commit suicide are complicated and varied and the solutions are the same, but this I know: we won’t be able to solve it unless we are all clear on who is ending their lives – and you now know an extraordinarily large percentage of those suicides are by men. Men deserve better. And I am willing to take the possible social backlash in saying something that seems to be unspeakable – and I hope you are too: “Men’s lives matter.” Let’s get this figured out and get to work ending this tragedy.
SUICIDE HOTLINE INFO:
Text 988 – Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
Chat with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline here.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline: in**@na**.org or Call 1 (800) 950-6264 (Monday-Friday 10 am to 10 pm ET)