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Killing Men
January 20, 2004
by K. C. Wilson

The National Institute of Mental Health is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They offer an FAQ page on suicide at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/research/suicidefaq.cfm. One entry reads:

Why do men commit suicide more often than women do?

More than four times as many men as women die by suicide; but women attempt suicide more often during their lives than do men, and women report higher rates of depression. Several explanations have been offered: a) Completed suicide is associated with aggressive behavior that is more common in men, and which may in turn be related to some of the biological differences identified in suicidality. b) Men and women use different suicide methods. Women in all countries are more likely to ingest poisons than men. In countries where the poisons are highly lethal and/or where treatment resources scarce, rescue is rare and hence female suicides outnumber males. More research is needed on the social- cultural factors that may protect women from completing suicide, and how to encourage men to recognize and seek treatment for their distress, instead of resorting to suicide.

In response, I wrote:

To: wittenbc@mail.nih.gov, ti4g@nih.gov
Subject: Gender bias in mental health care

Dear Clarissa Wittenberg and Thomas Insel,

I am disappointed in the gender bias shown by your answer to, "Why do men commit suicide more often than women do?" Rather than explain it, it is an example of the reason.

The first sentence contains a "but women," reflecting the answer's "so what" attitude toward men since it then spends the answer avoiding men's suicide to only talk about women's. (By the way, men commit more suicides in all countries with the possible exception of China. The author might get their facts straight.)

The psychologists I've heard suggest that women attempt suicide as a cry for help. That is, they only attempt it, confident of getting the attention they seek. Men commit it exactly because they know they will never get attention, which your website confirms.

The answer dismisses the fourfold greater male suicide rate as male aggression, which blames men for theirs while being concern for women's. No study has ever supported this bias. Men and women may express their aggression in different forms but there's every reason to consider both genders equally aggressive. Love, hate, and aggression are not gender-specific. Indeed, the evidence suggests that women commit more aggression exactly because these gender biases allow them to get away with it. (See When She Was Bad, Odd Girl Out, etc.)

Men commonly have more outbound energy than women. Calling that aggression is the very bias to which I refer. I even wonder if your own science and research contributed to your website, or only superstition.

It always surprises me how the last thing psychologists look to for why people behave as they do is the way they are being treated. It isn't mentioned, but a major source of the overall discrepancy is that divorced men commit TEN TIMES the suicides of divorced women. You don't suppose the different rates reflect how men are treated by society verses how women are treated, and that this answer is a fine example? How can mental health professionals cure anything while an instrument of the very forces whose effects it seeks to cure?

Since women go to the doctor four times more often than men, some say the medical industry is geared toward them. Perhaps it's good that NIMH ignores the needs of men. If you offered anything it, too, would probably be inappropriate for men's needs.

Copyright © 2004 K.C.Wilson. This article first appeared at Menstuff. Used by permission of author.

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