Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
In recent years, there has been a steady increase in the number of men who end their own lives prematurely through suicide. Research shows that while women tend to experience more suicidal thinking, men are far more likely to die by suicide.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that over 47,000 people died by suicide in 2017 in the United States.1 Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall. In 2015, suicide was the 7th leading cause of death for all American men, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Suicide is a serious problem in the United States and worldwide, but there is hope.
- In 2017, the suicide rate for men was 3.5 times higher than it was for women.
- The suicide rate is highest among middle-aged white men, who accounted for almost 70% of all suicides in 2017.
- Research also suggests that while women attempt suicide more often, men choose more lethal means of suicide.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that suicide represents half of all male violent deaths worldwide.
- Men over the age of 65 are at the greatest risk of suicide.
Here are some important things to understand about suicide among men and what you can do if you or a loved one are having hopeless feelings or having thoughts about suicide.
Not every attempt at suicide results in completion, although first attempts are often followed by fatal second attempts.
The most common risk factors for suicide are:
- Being bullied at school, college, or work
- Divorce or relationship breakdowns
- History of physical and sexual abuse
- Loss of a loved one through trauma or disease
- Mental illness, particularly where this is related to depression and painful or debilitating illnesses or conditions
- Not being able to form or sustain meaningful relationships
- Social isolation or living alone
- Using drugs and/or alcohol to help cope with emotions, relationships, the pressure of work, or other issues
In addition to the above risk factors, there are some other theories as to why men are at a greater risk of death by suicide.
- Traditional male gender roles discourage emotional expression. Men are told they need to be tough and that they should not need to ask for help. Such rigid gender norms may make it difficult for men to reach out and ask for support when they need it.
- Depression may be underdiagnosed in men. Men often do not disclose feelings of depression to their doctors. When they do, it is often described in terms of having problems at work or in relationships. Men also tend to describe their feelings as “stress” rather than sadness or hopelessness.
- Men are less likely to seek help for emotional problems. Research suggests that depression is diagnosed less frequently in men because of the tendency to deny illness, self-monitor symptoms, and self-treat.2
- Men may be more likely to self-treat symptoms of depression with alcohol and other substances.
Men are also more likely to use lethal suicide methods than women.3
There are strategies that both individuals and communities can utilize to help reduce the risk of male suicide, including:
- Watching for signs of depression. Symptoms of depression in men include irritability, social withdrawal, anxiety, loss of interest or pleasure, physical pains and complaints, engaging in risky behaviors, misusing drugs and alcohol, and being unable to keep up with normal daily tasks.
- Offering support. If you notice signs of depression, ask what you can do to help and let them know that you are there to listen and help.
- Not ignoring the signs. Avoid dismissing or making light of comments that indicate suicidal thoughts or behaviors. If you hear suicidal talk or statements, encourage them to talk to their doctor or therapist.
Emotional and practical support is important for helping people to adjust their circumstances in order to restore well-being. The warning signs listed above do not inevitably lead to suicide attempts. However, people who feel suicidal often report a certain kind of tunnel vision, of being unable to see the broader picture and thinking only in terms of black and white.
In such circumstances, that individual may not be motivated to seek out help for themselves, and it often falls on others to offer support by listening, offering encouragement, and sometimes even challenging the preconceptions that people hold about themselves such as their abilities and worth to society.
Other ways to help reduce male suicide:
- Identify men who are at risk and offer support.
- Teach men coping and problem-solving skills to help them manage challenges with work, relationships, and health issues.
- Make mental health support options readily available.
- Create opportunities that bring groups of people together so that they can form social connections and find support.
- Restrict access to lethal means of suicide, such as firearms and prescription drugs.
A 2019 study published in the Journal of Mental Health found that receiving support from a trusted and respected friend can be an effective suicide prevention strategy for men. Forming connections with other people who are going through the same thing can also be helpful.
Reframing help-seeking is also important. Men may avoid asking for help because they fear it is a sign of weakness. Finding ways to change this perspective is a critical aspect of reducing male suicide rates. The 2019 study also found that reframing help-seeking as masculine behavior increases the likelihood that men will ask for help when they need it.4