Most Male Suicides in Us Show No Link to Mental Health Issues

Summary: 60% of male suicide victims have no prior history of documented mental health problems, a new study reports.

Source: UCLA

A majority of American men who die by suicide don’t have any known history of mental health problems, according to new research by UCLA professor Mark Kaplan and colleagues.

“What’s striking about our study is the conspicuous absence of standard psychiatric markers of suicidality among a large number of males of all ages who die by suicide,” said Kaplan, a professor of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

For the study, published online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Kaplan and his co-authors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked recent suicide deaths among U.S. males aged 10 and older. They found that 60% of victims had no documented mental health conditions.

Further, males without a history of mental health issues died more frequently by firearms than those with known mental health issues, and many were found to have alcohol in their systems, the researchers noted.

The report highlights the major public health challenge of addressing suicide among males, who are far more likely to die by suicide and less likely to have known mental health conditions than females. In 2019, for instance, males accounted for 80% of all suicide deaths in the U.S., the authors said, and suicide is the eighth-leading cause of death among males 10 and older.

Kaplan and his colleagues examined data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Violent Death Reporting System for the most-recent three-year period available, 2016 to 2018, during which more than 70,000 American males died by suicide. More than 42,000 of them had no known mental health conditions, they found.

The researchers then compared characteristics of those with and without known mental health conditions across their life span in four age groups: adolescents (10–17 years old), young adults (18–34), middle aged adults (35–64) and older adults (65 and older).

Identifying the various factors that contribute to suicides among these groups is crucial to developing targeted suicide prevention efforts, especially outside of mental health systems, the team emphasized.

Among their findings, they discovered that across all groups, those without known mental health conditions were less likely to have had a history of contemplating or attempting suicide, or both, than those with such issues.

In particular, young and middle-aged adults without known mental health conditions disclosed suicidal intent significantly less often, they said.

In addition, males with no mental health history who died by suicide in three of the four age groups—adolescents, young adults and middle-aged men—more commonly experienced relationship problems, arguments or another type of personal crisis as precipitating circumstances than for those with prior histories.

This shows a man walking in the trees
They found that 60% of victims had no documented mental health conditions. Image is in the public domain

The researchers emphasized the importance of focusing on these kinds of acute situational stressors as part of suicide prevention efforts and working to discourage the use of alcohol, drugs and guns during times of crisis—particularly for teens and young adults, who may be more prone to act impulsively.

Kaplan and his colleagues said the findings highlight the potential benefits of strategies to create protective environments, provide support during stressful transitions, and enhance coping and problem-solving skills across the life span.

“Suicide prevention initiatives for males might benefit from comprehensive approaches focusing on age-specific stressors reported in this study, in addition to standard psychiatric markers,” the researchers wrote.

“These findings,” Kaplan said, “could begin to change views on the non–mental health factors driving up the rate of suicide among men.”

About this mental health and suicide research news

Author: Press Office
Source: UCLA
Contact: Press Office – UCLA
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
Suicide Among Males Across the Lifespan: An Analysis of Differences by Known Mental Health Status” by Katherine A. Fowler et al. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 


Abstract

Suicide Among Males Across the Lifespan: An Analysis of Differences by Known Mental Health Status

Introduction

Suicide among males is a major public health challenge. In 2019, males accounted for nearly 80% of the suicide deaths in the U.S., and suicide was the eighth leading cause of death for males aged ≥10 years. Males who die by suicide are less likely to have known mental health conditions than females; therefore, it is important to identify prevention points outside of mental health systems. The purpose of this analysis was to compare suicide characteristics among males with and without known mental health conditions by age group to inform prevention.

Methods

Suicides among 4 age groups of males were examined using the 3 most recent years of data at the time of the analysis (2016–2018) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Violent Death Reporting System. Decedents with and without known mental health conditions were compared within age groups. The analysis was conducted in August 2021.

Results

Most male suicide decedents had no known mental health conditions. More frequently, those without known mental health conditions died by firearm, and many tested positive for alcohol. Adolescents, young adults, and middle-aged males without known mental health conditions more often had relationship problems, arguments, and/or a crisis as a precipitating circumstance than those with known mental health conditions.

Conclusions

Acute stressors more often precipitated suicides of males without known mental health conditions, and they more often involved firearms. These findings underscore the importance of mitigating acute situational stressors that could contribute to emotionally reactive/impulsive suicides. Suicide prevention initiatives targeting males might focus on age-specific precipitating circumstances in addition to standard psychiatric markers.

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  1. There was a time where my suicide would have been due to mental health issues. However, in the future it’ll just be the logical decision.

  2. This headline is so reckless. They just don’t seek treatment! If anything your headline and your terrible conclusion will only make this problem worse.

  3. Maybe instead of focusing and blanking everything on mental health, the lurking factor is the state of our world and what it’s doing to men right now.

    Chalking up the experiences men have to having mental health problems is like telling someone their taste buds are wrong when their milk is sour.

    Just a thought.

    Mental illness is maybe not the issue. Ask your people at the DSM authority what they think and they won’t bat an eye because they get paid and mental health is the biggest scapegoat money maker in America right now.

  4. The headline is very misleading and I feel it doesn’t actually even reflect the findings or conclusions of the study itself.

  5. Why does this article feel like it has a hidden agenda behind it. Anyone that has just a tiny bit of familiarity with mental health issues, (which I hope these researchers had), would consider that men are substantially less likely to seek help for mental health challenges then females.
    I don’t know what their angle is here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this study shows up on someone’s political agenda as evidence based research proves …

  6. In the military, what I saw was that lower ranking enlisted soldiers who finally worked up the nerve to ask for help were sent to the chaplain. These fine officers do all they can as counselors but are not medically trained. Meanwhile officers were sent to psychiatrists or psychologists but it was all hushed up.

  7. Men are disproportionately represented in professions where peer pressure encourages getting drunk and partying as ways to “deal with” personal problems. Asking for help is viewed as weak. Law enforcement, blue collar professions, the military (especially combat arms, e.g. infantry and artillery) are highly resistant to change in this matter and officers and senior non-commissioned officers are the worst offenders in the military. The leadership may verbally encourage change but until they lead by example it will be tragically slow in coming.

  8. Shaun, I completely agree with you that men tend to be less likely to seek help for mental health concerns (often due to societal expectations and pressures); therefore, they would be undiagnosed with a mental health condition. There is nothing wrong with creating/having safe spaces to get support during difficult transitional periods; however, the stigma around mental health and men getting mental health treatment in particular must be addressed as well.
    We definitely need more resources for men with mental health concerns. This link has some resources geared towards men (scroll down towards the bottom).

  9. You guys are missing the point. The study is stating that suicide among males tends to be an impulsive act, precipitated by a stressor, alcohol use, and access to a firearm; having a diagnosis like major depressive disorder and expressing suicidal ideations are less of predictors for completing suicide than those variables. This further complicates predicting who will commit suicide: clinically it may NOT be the patients we think it will be, it very well may be the patients we don’t see in our offices bc the action is an impulsive reaction, not long-thought out and discussed with a therapist or prescriber. Their point is that we (clinicians) cannot completely predict who will commit suicide (or gun violence, if we extrapolate this to mass shooters, since they have similar commonalities).

    They looked at statistical correlations of several variables; they didn’t use a qualitative approach and examine narratives or societal influences or whatever some of you seem to be upset about.

    That wasn’t the point of the study.

    1. This is very well said. Thank you. Everything being said about the larger sociocultural plague of hypermasculinity and what that does to men with respect to their comfort asking for help and acknowledging a need for help is totally valid. I couldn’t agree more. It’s just not what this study was about. This study was a retroactive quantitative analysis that concluded that a mental health history and/or diagnosis and known suicidal ideation were lesser predictors of suicide in males, indicating that suicide in males appears to be more reactive in acute situations, making prevention much more difficult because if a decision is reactive, what signs, behaviors, etc. do we look for ahead of time?

  10. As many have pointed out before, absence of documented mental health conditions does not equal absence of prior mental health problems. It might just as well be that women seek help and thus do not arrive at the point to actually commit suicide whereas men are still socialized to not do so which leaves them lacking resources to cope with our treat these conditions.
    Moreover, women have been depicted as more prone to mental health issues, are diagnosed more often and thereby confirm the notion of them been less stable. What if the diagnostic criteria were reflective of this bias? What if manifestations of mental health issues that appear in women are considered mental health conditions whereas manifestations of mental health problems more common among men are not considered mental health issues? Maybe the problem is not only that men still grow up learning that a man does not go to a shrink (which is part of the problem!), but also that expressions of mental health problems more typically expressed by men do not get categorised as such and thus even if men look for help they cannot be diagnosed because the manuals are tailored more towards the symptoms expressed by women.

  11. Almost everyone stated it right here. As a mental health professional who keeps up with research and knows how to critically analyze it (although it does not take a degree or a place in this profession to have the common sense to know that you guys with your Ph.Ds are either ignorant and lack any kind of critical thinking and don’t actually research the topic or consider other data or evidence and are out of touch as heck and are not self-aware and definitely aren’t following ethical standards well in your research, or you’re knowingly part of the stigma/problem here), I am so pissed and appalled at the complete ignorance and exclusion of societal expectations of men to bottle their emotions, never show their suffering, be “strong” not “weak” or a “little b*tch” or “overly sensitive.” Not a “real man.” It implied that they lack value because they can’t fulfill their expected role as men in society because of their mental health struggles. They often don’t even realize they have a mental health struggle (regardless of diagnosis). I know even as a woman, I didn’t acknowledge the seriousness of my mental health struggles and admit it was not normal and was depression and got help until halfway through my senior year of college. I think the person saying it’s an oversight is giving you too much of the benefit of the doubt. Men are discouraged by society and even by the people in their life, family, and their communities to not seek help. Either they are told that or they don’t because they fear judgement (valid because people do often judge, which is so harmful). And even if they do want to seek help, mental health care (frankly any kind of health care) is so expensive and inaccessible in the US (or “Us” lol wow you are comfortable publicly publishing this with that kind of amateur error in the title?) It’s hard to get a diagnosis or even any kind of care at all, regardless of diagnosis. PLUS tack on the fact that depression presents differently in men than women (and just in different people in general regardless of gender), so it goes undiagnosed, because unfortunately too many mental health professionals don’t consider that. PLUS consider the stigma against women for being the “crazy” ones (hysteria…), so men don’t want to be compared to that and perceived that way. Because “they’re MEN, not overly emotional and sensitive like women.” Men are expected to not show emotion, not show struggle, to respond to these triggering situations with anger and force and violence. It means “they’re tough and strong,” not that they’re struggling. I could go on. This study is completely irresponsible and unethical and should be reported.

  12. I am surprised that researchers didn’t highlight the fact that many people don’t ask for professional help when facing mental health issues. There is many studies that found how especially men are afraid to ask for help, most likely because they see mental health issues as a weakness. Therefore, if many men don’t ask for help, they will have no history of mental health problems. The suicide itself highlights possible mental health issues. Conclusions in the study above are misleading. Please use your critical thinking.

  13. I’m deeply concerned about serious oversights made in this article. This pertains specifically to the excessive repetition of these kinds of statements:

    “… male suicide victims have no prior history of documented mental health problems…”

    “…no documented mental health conditions…”

    “…less likely to have known mental health conditions than females…”

    It’s apparent that at no point does the author clarify the fact that documentation or institutional knowledge of a person’s mental health conditions is not necessary for those conditions to exist. A lack of mental health history, does not mean that mental health problems are not present. Every potential patient that seeks mental health support has not prior mental health history until they receive care for the first time.

    It stands to reason that by our culture’s gender norms, males are discouraged from embracing their emotional condition. In a way they are dehumanized, and we have made almost no progress toward changing this.

    Studies have documented this phenomenon. Males are dramatically less likely to seek help thank females are, especially for mental health problems. This would indicate that those problems are less likely to be known or documented in clinical settings.

    Furthermore, mental health support resources targeted specifically at adult male populations are almost completely non-existent in the United States.

    Why is this not mentioned at all?

    I feel that these massive oversights would render the content in this article detrimental to the general health and well-being of our society, which includes males.

    This article conveys a sense that the author intends to imply that males are by nature inherently “impulsive” alcohol abusers, and that these characteristics are what contribute to higher suicide rates within the population. This is vaguely reminiscent of how mental health experts used to regard women. An unfortunate history, which we now rightfully view as ignorant and harmful.

    1. Shaun, I completely agree with you that men tend to be less likely to seek help for mental health concerns (often due to societal expectations and pressures); therefore, they would be undiagnosed with a mental health condition. There is nothing wrong with creating/having safe spaces to get support during difficult transitional periods; however, the stigma around mental health and men getting mental health treatment in particular must be addressed as well.
      We definitely need more resources for men with mental health concerns. This link has some resources geared towards men (scroll down towards the bottom).

  14. Males very likely seek mental health support from doctors. This could explain why the rate of documented mental illness is low; men simply don’t go get diagnosed.
    In my experience this is often related to perceptions of masculinity.

  15. This seriously pisses off my IQ as much as my EQ!

    All of it… Be it suicide or mass shooting or any other sort of violence towards self or others is a SOCIAL mental health issue that is not being recognized by the “diagnostic bible”

    Specifically in the states, it’s far too expensive to seek help, almost impossible to find quality help and vets have it worse

    Setting up more hotlines and safe spaces are a great idea but also retarded in the Entomology of the word!
    A willfully choice to be backwards, delaying progress

    What has to happen, be it for suicide, mass shootings and any of the other violence… The social quality of life has to improve

    It is not being recognized just how much global society is a mental health issue that is far beyond the concept of personal biological mental health issues

    If we don’t improve the global quality of life, all of humanity suffers and that perpetuates all the wars, terrorist behavior ( be it foreign or from within), the hate, the violence etc

    It is like the brain changes that happened with prolonged exposure to living in space…
    It was OBVIOUS that new extreme behavior over prolonged exposure would cause changes but no one thought of that connection until how many YEARS later?!

    How long will it take for the social mental health of the collective to be recognized!?!

  16. I don’t mean to offend, but what an ignorant study. I suffered from severe mental health problems for nearly 40 years before I sought help. Mental illness has long been stigmatized in this country (particularly among men). Therefore many people have not sought help and/or have experienced so much gaslighting from medical professionals that they simply gave up. I speak from experience when I say ALL suicides are due to mental illness.

    1. As the above comments indicate, the most important step of treating mental illness is its recognition and assessment. This “study” exhibits all of the hallmarks of pay-for-headlines “science”, and has serious potential to deepen the taboo on mental health and cause irreprebal harm. At what point did “social welfare” become a branch of medicine? Shame on UCLA and shame on neurosciencenews.com for publishing this.

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