Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Better Suicide Prevention Outreach Urged for Men: Novel Campaign Advocated

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Better Suicide Prevention Outreach Urged for Men: Novel Campaign Advocated

Article excerpt

SANTA FE, N. M. -- American men commit suicide at a rate 4.4 times greater than women--and doing something about it will require overcoming many thousands of years of social conditioning, Alan L. Berman, Ph.D., said at the annual conference of the American Association of Suicidology.

Most men are not good at seeking help. They are reluctant to ask directions when lost, and they don't seek professional help for emotional problems placing them at risk for suicide. Finding ways to motivate emotionally troubled men to seek such help constitutes a formidable challenge.

"This is a problem that goes back to how men were socialized in the very beginning, as hunter/gatherers rather than nurturers," observed Dr. Berman, the association's executive director.

"We're socialized to be stronger, to be independent, in emotional control, to be hunters and achievers. Obviously, this is changing somewhat in American society right now, but not for men--it's just that women are increasingly looking more like men in some of these variables."

Of an estimated 815,000 suicides worldwide in the year 2000, three-quarters occurred in men. The male-to-female ratio varied widely, from a high of more than 10:1 in Puerto Rico to a slight preponderance of female suicides in China, the only nation where female suicides outnumber male suicides.

And while the overall male-to-female suicide ratio in the United States is 4.4:1, it soars to 12.5:1 among the elderly.

"We're socialized to not communicate emotionally, and we're socialized particularly to withhold emotional communication man-to-man. One of the very clear outcomes of all this is that we have a generally very negative attitude toward health seeking. Men take a particularly devaluing view toward other men who have problems, who are in need of help, and who seek help. The notion here is that restricted emotional communication further restricts help-seeking when in need," the psychologist explained.

The more macho the man, the greater his difficulty in admitting vulnerability and giving over power to another person to obtain help.

Interestingly, the rate of involuntary psychiatric commitment is also markedly higher in men, Dr. Berman noted.

Constructing novel suicide prevention programs aimed specifically at reducing high suicide rates among men will require overcoming these deep-rooted male barriers to seeking help. …

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