Suicide prevention: Understanding the gender paradox

By Regence
November 27, 2023
The Rock Movember quote

Have you noticed more men sporting mustaches, goatees or beards this month? That facial hair may be their visual declaration that men’s well-being matters! Growing a “Mo” in November represents a movement aimed at tackling the biggest health issues facing men: prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health challenges and suicide prevention.

The global Movember campaign is all about changing the face of men’s health – because they are dying at a younger age than women. CDC data released this week shows the life expectancy gap between genders widened to nearly six years nationwide between 2010 and 2021.

Drug overdose and suicide among men are key drivers of this troubling trend. National data confirms the suicide rate among men has been significantly higher than women since the 1950s, estimated to be about four times higher in 2022. This long-standing discrepancy has become known as the gender paradox.

Even today, many men believe they must be strong and capable or at least appear that way. The tragic reality is an increasing number of them are suffering inside and too often taking their own lives.

What's behind the gender paradox?

According to Regence’s director of behavioral health, Andree Miceli, “Men and women respond differently to acute, ongoing stress and mental health issues. Women internalize them and more often seek help. Men tend to see stress as external and feel overwhelmed by things ‘piling up’ on them. They downplay symptoms and are reluctant to discuss them.”

Additionally, men are less likely to seek professional help, share thoughts of suicide/self-harm, or show clear warning signs of distress.

Strategies for intervention and suicide prevention

Today more than ever, it's important to do more to prevent suicides. We can all watch for warning signs among family members and friends. The following behavioral changes may indicate an emotional struggle or mental health issue among men in particular:

  • Irritability, isolation or inappropriate anger
  • Aggressive, controlling or abusive behavior
  • Escapist or risky behavior like working all the time and reckless driving
  • Difficulty expressing emotions, sharing their feelings
  • Increased alcohol or illegal drug use

Beyond watching for signs of distress, Miceli says to “seize the awkward” if you are concerned about a male family member or friend. She says, “Have those tough conversations, even if they feel uncomfortable.”

She also says, “ If you believe someone is thinking about killing themselves, ask them about it! A direct question won't increase the risk of them attempting suicide, it's much more likely to save their life.”

Here are some conversation starters:

  • Simply ask “Are you okay?”
  • Think about emotions as information, they're trying to tell us something.
  • It's okay to seek help for mental health, just like we do for physical conditions.

“Even if a person isn't ready to say, ‘I'm not okay,’ you’ve shown them you’re available when they are ready,” said Miceli. “And then, keep asking if you remain concerned.”

How men can help themselves

  • Learn to recognize and label your emotions, that funny feeling might not be indigestion
  • Naming your emotions immediately downgrades their effect on physical responses.
  • Develop healthy, sustainable coping mechanisms and use them!
  • Seek out a peer, someone who has had similar experiences.
  • Consider therapy as a chance to gain problem solving skills and grow stronger.

Anyone could be at risk for suicide

Overall, suicide rates have increased significantly over the past two decades, with the highest number of recorded lives lost to suicide in 2022.  That's a strong indication that it's time to learn about warning signs and connect someone at risk to the help they need. what we can do for anyone who may be at risk for suicide:

  • Provide peer support – simply be there, just listening with compassion is a powerful tool.
  • Validate feelings, remain calm, avoid judging and offering quick fixes.
  • Get involved and offer to connect them with some help.
  • Share 988 info and local resources
  • It's okay to call 988 on behalf of someone else!

Learn about Regence’s Blue Movember Campaign here.

If you or someone you know is in a crisis, get help immediately. You can call 911 or call or text the new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. When people call, text, or chat 988, they will be connected to trained counselors who will listen, understand how their problems are affecting them, provide support, and connect them to resources if needed.