“There was very little suicide among the men of the North, because every man considered it his duty to get killed, not to kill himself; and to kill himself would have seemed cowardly, as implying fear of being killed by others.” – Lafcadio Hearn
Each year, roughly 44,193 citizens die by suicide – an average of nearly 100 completed suicides every day. For every completed suicide, there are 25 attempts. In the United States, one man successfully kills himself every 20 minutes. Men make up over 75 percent of national suicide victims, and it has been found that men living in small, rural towns have significantly higher rates of suicide. States such as Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and New Mexico have the highest rates of suicide in the country. Why is this?
Suicide Rates Amongst Men
High suicide rates amongst men (and higher suicide rates amongst men in certain regions) has been attributed to several differing factors. Firstly, higher-than-average suicide rates amongst men in certain states have been attributed to a massive decline in traditionally male-exclusive industries. Men used to work in the manufacturing or forestry industry, or work as fishermen or farmers. In the current day and age (and what with recent and major technological advancements), the majority of these jobs are relatively obsolete. Huge populations of men in certain regions have been left unemployed or under-employed as a direct result.
As human beings, we all strive to develop and maintain a strong sense of purpose. If my father worked as a fisherman, and my father’s father worked as a fisherman, and so on and so forth, I will likely grow up believing that it is my greater purpose to become a fisherman as well. If the current economy disallows this generational dream from coming to fruition, I may feel as if I am letting my family down. I may feel as if I have no sense of purpose; as if I am unable to adequately support my spouse and offspring.
And what is a man if he cannot support his spouse and offspring? Not much, society tells us.
Gender Constructs and Male Suicide
Many men are finding it increasingly more difficult to fulfill the breadwinner role, leaving them without a vital sense of purpose; without the powerful sense of pride that comes with being able to financially sustain their loved ones. This may seem a bit dramatic, but the sense of ultimate powerlessness that comes with an unstable career path is very real – and very damaging.
Another factor that may contribute to higher suicide rates amongst men is a strong desire to fit into mainstream society. Veterans of war, gay men, and American Indians experience higher rates of suicide than other male demographics. A commonality amongst these groups may be a perceived inability to fit in – a sense of rejection that leads to isolation and a fear of social dismissal.
By age, suicide rates are the highest in men over the age of 65. Many believe that this also has to do with the issue of establishing a long-lasting sense of purpose and meaning – one that is not directly tied into career objectives and breadwinning abilities. American men will often spend their entire lives climbing the corporate ladder, working towards a position of power and authority (and a hefty retirement fund). Once they finally do retire, however, they find that their personal identity has become completely intertwined with their professional identity. They lose a vital sense of purpose, and have a difficult time formulating reasons to continue on.
This major gender difference in suicide is often referred to as the “gender paradox of suicidal behavior”, and it has become a widespread issue in our current society. Social constructions of masculinity and femininity and traditional gender roles certainly play a major part in what some researchers have christened a national epidemic. Male gender roles typically involve risk-taking behaviors, independence, and greater levels of strength – both physical and emotional. In many instances, reinforcement of these gender roles prevents men from seeking the help they need when grappling with suicidal thoughts. It is important to keep in mind that true strength lies in our ability to ask for help when we need it. If you or someone you love had been exhibiting signs of suicidal or depressed behavior, do what you can to seek professional help immediately.
We at Next Chapter work closely with men of all ages who have struggled with suicidal ideations, and we understand that the first step to overcoming such issues is focusing on the unresolved pain that inevitably resides at the core of all current emotional problems. For more information on our male-specific program of recovery, please feel free to contact us today.