Researchers in the US have confirmed five well established but commonly overlooked facts about suicide in younger men.
The ground-breaking study of children and younger adults (12 to 29 years) focused on suicide deaths of LGBT young people. In the process, the study shed light on suicides among “non-LGBT” males and females.
Unless otherwise stated, the statistics in this article refer to “non-LGBT” suicides. The study of data from the National Violent Death Reporting System reviewed 2,209 cases, which had valid data for sexual orientation and/or were coded as transgender.
A total of 1,994 of the 2,209 cases were found to be “non-LGBT” suicides. Of these, 4 out of 5 suicides (80.3%) were men and boys. In addition to finding that there were four times more male suicides than female suicides, the study also confirmed the following five truths about male suicide:
1. Most male suicides are not linked to mental health issues
The study confirmed the fact that most male suicides are not linked with a history of mental illness. For the young men and boys in the study, 7 in 10 who died by suicide had no history of mental illness.
In total, around 1,100 male suicides in the study had no history of mental illness, compared with close to 200 female suicides.
This is another reminder of the need for suicide prevention strategies that target men to look beyond mental health narratives and focus on high risk groups such as separated dads, unemployed men and men in financial distress.
2. Relationship problems are the key issue
Conversations around male suicide tend to focus on the stigma around men’s mental health. However, the study confirmed that mental illness is not the leading predictor of male suicide, the most significant single risk factor for suicide in men under 30 is “intimate partner problems”, with issues within an intimate relationship being a contributing factor in 62% of male suicides in the study.
In total, close to 1,000 male suicides in the study were linked to relationship issues, compared to just over 200 female suicides.
In contrast, relationship issues in the LGBT population were more strongly linked with female suicides. For example, lesbian suicides were around 50% more likely to be associated with intimate partner problems than gay male suicides.
3. Most men who suicide die on the first known attempt
In recent years a lot of focus has been placed on targeting suicide prevention resource on helping those who have previously attempted suicide. While this is an understandable strategy, it is less effective at reaching men as research consistently finds that most men kill themselves at the first known attempt.
This latest study confirmed this fact, finding that 82% of male suicides under the age of 30 died at the first known attempt.
In total, around 1,300 male suicides in the study had no history of mental illness, compared with more than to 250 female suicides.
4. Most male suicides had no history of suicidality
It is well established that men are significantly more likely to die by suicide than women and yet research consistently identifies more women who experience suicidality than men.
Suicidality describes a range of behaviours that includes thinking about suicide, planning suicide and attempting suicide.
One form of suicidality is having a history of suicidal thoughts, which the latest study captured. Consistent with previous findings, women in the study were more likely to have a history of suicidal thoughts.
The majority of men who died by suicide didn’t have a history of suicidal thinking. In total, around 1,050 male suicides in the study had no history of suicidal thoughts, compared with around 230 female suicides.
Identifying and targeting support at people who experience suicidality is a common suicide prevention strategy, which is more effective at reaching women at risk of suicide than men at risk of suicide.
This latest study is a reminder that different approaches are needed to reach men at risk of suicide.
5. It’s a myth that men aren’t getting help
The problem of male suicide is often presented as an issue caused by men’s failure to get help with their mental health.
The study found that around 1 in 6 of the men and boys who died by suicide were in treatment for mental illness, approximately half of the men in the study with a history of mental illness.
In total, more than 250 male suicides in the study were in treatment for a mental illness, compared with around 125 female suicides.
This finding is a reminder that while we can always improve men’s access to mental health services, a significant number of men who die by suicide have already accessed mental health treatment, but the help provided wasn’t enough to prevent their suicide.
About the research
The research was undertaken by Geoffrey L. Ream Ph.D. from the School of Social Work at Adelphi University in New York. His paper - “What's Unique About Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Youth and Young Adult Suicides? Findings From the National Violent Death Reporting System” – has been published in the Journal Of Adolescent Health.
TAKE ACTION FOR MEN'S HEALTH
READ: Findings from the National Violent Death Reporting System
READ: New study sheds light on LGBT youth suicides (AMHF)
READ: Preventing male suicide (AMHF)
READ: Male suicides in Australian up 10 per cent (AMHF)