Monday 16 July 2012

Gender and Suicide

The Guardian have been reporting on the rise of suicide among older men and it brings up a recurring theme that I have experienced when talking to people about suicide; gender. 

I have recently started attending a support group so that I have an environment where I am actively encouraged to consciously think and talk about what has happened. It is amazing how different everybody's stories are. Some people have similar experiences to me, where the suicide is extremely sudden and there appears to be very little in a way of warning. Others have lost people who have attempted to kill themselves several times. Some have lost children. Some have lost spouses. Some have lost siblings like me. Some lost youngsters, some of those who died were grandparents. Some people there are posher than others. But the people we have lost all have two things in common. Number one is that they have chosen to take their own lives. Number two is that they are all male. 

According to the article, statistics show that 75 per cent of suicide victims are male. That's a pretty significant discrepancy. 

As somebody who often likes to discuss feminist issues, I believe that when such a big gender gap occurs, you should always ask the question 'why?'. Sometimes it's just a correlation, nothing else, but sometimes there is some pretty apparent sexism at play. 

It is a sad fact that the only people who can ever give the real answer to the question of 'why?' are the victims themselves. Even if they were still around to respond, it's unlikely they would be able to fully relate their own personal reasons to their gender. 

And it's not as if you can just ask those who have survived suicide attempts to get an understanding of this difference between the sexes. It is often suggested that women are just as likely to have suicidal thoughts and attempt suicide as often, if not more often, than males. Some claim that the discrepancy is down to the chosen method of suicide or that attempts made by women are "more often based on non-suicidal motivation"

But it is so hard to truly separate those who have "real" suicidal motivation at heart during their attempts from those for whom it is "just a cry for help". As the quote I have read in so many suicide information messages suggests, suicide is a permanent response to a temporary problem, and therefore many who do end their own lives probably do so because they just cannot see those other options open to help them. 

I really do not know the answer, but Jane Powell, Chief Executive of the charity, CALM, had some very interesting ideas on the subject. Speaking to the Guardian, she said: "Men are by default supposed to be in control, in charge at all times and so therefore needing help is by definition unmanly.

"All too often men don't recognise what the problem is – they'll feel out of control, angry with everything, find that their life is out of focus, not be interested in what's happening around them – and they won't recognise that they are depressed. And because as a man they're supposed to be invulnerable, then suddenly the options they have of getting out of their situation start to look very slim."

In other words, the sexist stereotypes we often unwittingly and unwillingly perpetuate can have massive consequences for both men and women. 


  1. Is them all being male part of the groups criteria or is this just coincidence?

    1. The only criteria of the group is that you have been bereaved by suicide of a relative or friend, there's no criteria that says the person who died has to be male. So I think it's pretty significant, although given that hundreds of women every year also take their own lives I am surprised that there is nobody there who has lost a female relative or friend.