LEADERSHIP VOICES

Dying for help
With Yeates Conwell, MD

<< MORE VOICES

In America today, men are at three to four times greater risk for suicide than women. That disparity becomes even more pronounced when you consider our aging population, with people living longer and often with chronic illnesses.

Recent statistics tell the story: In 2003, 25,203 men died by suicide, comprising 80 percent of suicide deaths in our nation that year. Incredibly, this is nearly twice the number of men who died by homicide.

What is it about being male that places us at risk to die by our own hand? This special issue of Advancing Suicide Prevention® considers characteristics that make males vulnerable to suicide, and more so as they age: Underdiagnosis and undertreatment of depression and other mental illnesses; addictions, including excessive alcohol, drugs, gambling or other destructive behaviors; a lack of confiding relationships and inability to ask for help; isolation and loneliness; and ready access to firearms in men across the lifespan.

Prevention efforts that are effective must address those in the general population most at risk - men across the lifespan. Key groups include those age 65 and older, and men in their middle years, ages 25-54. Whereas older men have the highest rates for suicide of any group, suicide in younger and middle-aged men has by far the greatest societal burden in terms of potential years of life lost or potential earnings lost.

Only by recognizing the role that men play in the 30,000-plus suicides in our country each year, and developing effective interventions, can we hope to curb the tragic tide of violent, premature death in our nation by suicide.

Yeates Conwell, MD
Professor of Psychiatry
University of Rochester Medical School