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Are Men More Vulnerable To Death From Mental Health Concerns?

While COVID precautions may be lifting and life returning to some semblance of pre-pandemic normal, people around the country and around the world are dealing with another serious health concern: a mental health epidemic.

According to Mental Health America (MHA), 50 million Americans reported struggling with their mental health in 2019, or just under 20% of adults in the country. Suicidal ideation has risen every year since 2011, hitting 4.58% of adults before the pandemic. Those numbers have only climbed over the last two years of isolation and political and economic turmoil.

While mental health issues can affect anyone, men are particularly vulnerable to death as a result of their condition. Today we’re taking a look at:

  • The numbers – how many “deaths of despair” are men
  • The history – a look at some of the barriers between men and the mental health care they need
  • The path forward – where to turn for help if you or someone you love is struggling with their mental health

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please contact emergency services or reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s free, confidential, 24/7 national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for immediate assistance.‍

man with depression
While men and women are equally likely to experience depression, men are significantly more likely than women to die as a result of their condition. Why?

What Are Deaths Of Despair, And Are Men At Higher Risk?

You may have heard the term “death of despair,” but where does it come from? In 2015, economists Anne Case and Agnus Deaton coined the term when they set out to examine why the American life expectancy was falling. What they found is that the fastest rising death rates were from drug overdoses, suicides, and deaths from alcoholic liver disease.

They found that these so-called deaths of despair disproportionately occurred in white men who had not earned college degrees, and they suggested that the key driver in these deaths is economic misery.

As it turns out, this phenomenon goes back much further than the mid 2010s. French sociologist Emile Durkheim described these deaths as anomic suicides more than a century earlier in 1897. According to Durkheim, these deaths were the result of people feeling alienated from their communities and believing that the system they lived in was indifferent to their needs and hardships.

CDC 2019 suicide rates in men vs women across age groups
According to this summary of 2019 data from the CDC on age-adjusted causes of death in the US, men are much more likely to die of suicide than women are. A ratio of 4 means that if 100 females in the age group die by suicide, 400 males also die by suicide. So in the 75+ age group, for every 100 females who die of suicide, 930 men do. Source.

The implications of this phenomenon are grim. According to Data from the CDC, men are between 3 and 9.3 times as likely to die by suicide than women, depending on their age group.

Clearly, men are more vulnerable to deaths of despair – but why?

depressed man outside
Men may be more susceptible to deaths of despair due to a few different factors.

Theories About Why Men Are More Vulnerable To Deaths Of Despair

Since these startling statistics came out, we’ve been trying to understand why, exactly, men are more susceptible to deaths of despair and how we can help. Some of our current theories about the factors affecting mens’ vulnerability include:

  • The current economy makes it hard for men to play the role of provider and achieve traditional markers of success
  • Men choose more effective methods of committing suicide
  • Men experience more loneliness than women

Factor 1: The Current Economy Isn’t Working For Mens’ Mental Health

According to Case and Deaton, the answer may have to do with the current economic system.

Studies have shown time and time again that work is essential to a man’s overall wellbeing. According to a 2018 study by Harry’s and the University College of London, the biggest predictor of men’s wellbeing – over health, family, and other factors – is job satisfaction.

And it makes sense. Women are more likely than men to have strong social networks outside of the workplace. For men, their job is their community. It’s how they show that they’re smart or strong or otherwise valuable in society. It’s a huge part of how they define their identity, and one of the ways they can make themselves a good prospect for marriage. That’s why men may experience retirement depression, and why men struggle so much with their mental health when they lose their jobs.

Combine that with record unemployment rates, a topsy turvy economy, a boom in gig economy jobs, the rising cost of education, and all of the other factors currently making it difficult for men to land and keep the jobs they want, and you’ve got a recipe for mental health disaster.

male vs female deaths by suicide chart comparison
CDC data suggests that men are more likely to die by suicide than women. Image courtesy of cdc.gov.

Factor 2: Men Choose More Effective Methods Of Committing Suicide

Studies show that women are three times more likely to attempt suicide than men, but as we have already seen, men are four or more times likely than women to die by suicide. Huh?

One of the most important factors in the difference between suicide attempts and completed suicides is the chosen suicide method. Men typically choose more violent – and therefore more lethal – methods, including:

  • Firearms
  • Hanging
  • Asphyxiation or suffocation
  • Jumping
  • Moving objects
  • Sharp objects
  • Vehicle exhaust

Women, by comparison, tend to choose less violent or slower methods, such as self-poisoning or exsanguination (bleeding out through a cut such as a “slit” wrist).

Factor 3: Men Are Less Likely To Seek Help

Another major risk factor in deaths of despair is whether or not an individual seeks professional help. As you might expect, people who talk to a professional typically have better outcomes than those who don’t.

Men, however, are conditioned from a young age not to talk about their feelings. They’re told to “man up” or toughen up, and might be teased by their peers or even their families for expressing their emotions. As a result, boys grow up into men who are less likely to seek help when they are struggling with their mental health.

man speaking to a therapist
At Medical Man Cave, we’re changing the way we think about mental and physical care for men.

It’s Time To Start Talking About Mens’ Mental Health Needs And Finding Ways To Meet Them

Starting the conversation about mental health can be difficult. That’s why Medical Man Cave has created a place where men can get the support they need in a comfortable environment tailored to men’s tastes.

Starting with an appointment with one of our experienced general practitioners, Medical Man Cave can help you take control of your mental health and get your life back on track.