Wood's Homes Blog

Male suicide: The silent epidemic

September 06, 2019
By Monica Piros BSW, MSW
Male suicide: The silent epidemic

Male suicide has been referred to as a silent epidemic by academics Dan Bilsker, PhD and Jennifer White EdD. The pair published a study in the B.C. Medical Journal in December 2011, and attribute the high rate of occurrence of men ending their lives and the general public’s lack of awareness about this issue, as the reasons behind why the moniker is so appropriate. This blog will examine some statistics of note and highlight some steps that can be taken in hopes of ameliorating this national crisis.

Research compiled by Canadian officials indicates that Canadian men die by suicide at three times the rate of their female counterparts, and that they are at increased risk for completing the act in their late 40s and again in their late 80s. According to Statistics Canada, the highest rates of male suicide in Canada are found in Nunavut and, if this region was classified as a stand-alone country, these rates would be the second highest in the world.  We also know that the rates of suicide for former Canadian Forces personnel is 46% higher for males, relative to the civilian population. This should be of concern to all our citizens considering members of our most marginalized populations, as well as the individuals charged in part with protecting them, are all struggling to remain safe themselves.

Men are also more apt to use highly lethal methods of ending their lives, including death by hanging and by fatal gunshot wounds, and are more likely to be under the influence of alcohol at the time of their death. For these reasons, restricting access to firearms has been proposed as a prevention strategy, and advocates are also calling for the development of special protocols and instruments for screening men for suicide risk in primary care settings, as male patients are less likely to disclose feeling distressed or acknowledge propensity for impulsive behaviour. In the case of elderly men, suicidal intent progresses more quickly to the action stage, and this needs to be acknowledged and dealt with accordingly by the clinicians treating them.

As a therapist, I recognize the importance of adequate social supports for my clients and am concerned about low levels of help-seeking that are often associated with men in our society. An infographic published by the federal government shows that for every suicide death, there are five self-inflicted injury hospitalizations, 25-30 attempts and 7-10 people who are profoundly affected. The most alarming fact for me is that 95% of people who die by suicide were living with a mental health problem or illness. An untimely and tragic death continues to reverberate in an individual’s family, peer group and community for long periods of time, and these individuals often feel guilt, shame and sadness upon losing a loved one to suicide.

People don’t kill themselves because they want more than anything to die; they become exhausted and overwhelmed with trying to deal with life stressors that seem growingly insurmountable. When feelings of hopelessness are entwined with substance abuse and/or mental health challenges, these individuals are at even greater risk for suicide.

September 9th is World Suicide Prevention Day. I invite you to join me that day for a free screening of the documentary Evelyn, which chronicles attempts by the family of a young man who died by suicide, to make sense of the event, more than a decade after it took place. It will be presented by organizers of the 2019 JustREEL Marda Loop Justice Film Fest at 7pm at the River Park Church Auditorium, located at 3818 14A Street S.W. Calgary, AB. A panel discussion after the film will also be held. For more information on this event, please visit, http://www.justicefilmfestival.ca.

Wood’s Homes is honoured to be asked to join a panel discussion following the screening.