My husband committed suicide almost a year ago. This past weekend I met a new friend whose nephew did the same. At the beginning of the week I had dinner with a neighbour who told me of her two friends who had taken their lives in the past two months. Yesterday, I received an email from another friend who had just learned of a colleague’s attempted suicide. Suicide, and attempted suicide seems to be happening all around me. I am reminded how important it is to continue to break the silence of suicide, expel stigmas, and raise awareness.
Here are some global facts from the Canadian Mental Health Awareness website. Their website reads, “According to the World Health Organization (WHO), someone around the globe commits suicide every 40 seconds. In the year 2000, 815,000 people lost their lives to suicide — more than double the number of people who die as a direct result of armed conflict every year (306,600). For people between the ages of 15 and 44, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death and the sixth leading cause of disability and infirmity worldwide.“
Did you know that women are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than men, but men are four times more likely to actually commit suicide? (CMHA Statistics)
When I showed my family doctor my husband’s coroner’s report, he had no doubt my husband’s death was intentional.
For lack of finding better words, my doctor said, “Women tend to attempt suicide as a cry for help. Unfortunately, men tend to be successful. Once they reach that point, they have made up their minds.”
That is in no way to minimize the seriousness of attempted suicide by men or women. My doctor’s words did make me wonder, why does one gender seem determined to end their lives, while the other seems almost like they’re rolling the dice?
A 1998 article written by George E. Murphy, MD, in the journal of Comprehensive Psychiatry, says it is the variation in the way men compared to women, typically think. Dr. Murphy, and Dr. Eli Robins, had “conducted the first comprehensive study of suicide 40 years ago, studying every suicide that occurred in St. Louis and St. Louis County during a one-year period.” What Dr. Murphy noted was that women were more likely to comprehend, and consider, how their actions would impact their families, and others around them. They were also more likely to pursue a diagnosis, seek treatment, listen to advice and talk as an outlet.
One need only watch the first 5 minutes of Mark Gungor‘s “A tale of two brains” to understand some of the clear differences between the way men and women think. The relate-able laughter of the audience echos his findings. As he points out, women seem to be hardwired to see all, and they give, give, give. Men compartmentalize, and don’t always see the bigger picture.
Taking into account Dr. Murphy’s serious article, and Gungor’s humourous talk, I wonder how many women are brought to the edge of desperation by giving til it hurts. How many women give so much they reach the point where they feel there is nothing left? I also wonder if men are brought to the depths of their despair for lack of vision, and pain from isolation.
I have openly written about the place of sheer desperation I found myself in, in my post titled, “An impossible choice that only one of us survived.” I gave until there was nothing left and that was no laughing matter. Then I made a choice to take space for myself, to gain capacity so I could literally survive.
Dr. Murphy points out, “…before they ever get to the point of considering suicide…women are much more likely to seek help with their problems. The classic example is asking for directions when driving. Many men refuse to do that, perhaps seeing it as an admission of weakness. They believe they are supposed to be competent in all areas. Because they are not, they are at risk. Women, on the other hand, are much more likely to seek advice and take it.”
Women are not the only ones whose reserves can run low. Men can became isolated, bottle their emotions within themselves, and are more likely to not seek medical help. As I watch some of my friends’ boys, their loving, laughing, emotionally clingy boys, I wonder how much of their true nature gets pushed down in our culture that encourages a stiff upper lip, and to soldier on. Even soldiers can fall in a war from fear, and there is a very real war being waged against the minds and hearts of our men.
Awareness is the first step to fighting this war.
ADVICE FOR THOSE WHO CARE ABOUT WOMEN:
Love, and appreciate the women in your life. Hug them, love them, help them do the laundry. Write them a card. Say thank you. Offer to give back for all that the woman in your life has given you. It doesn’t matter if you feel like it. If you love her, help her.
Women, keep talking. Keep seeking help when you need it, and accept help when it’s offered.
ADVICE FOR THOSE WHO CARE ABOUT MEN:
Men, build community with men. After speaking to a few widowers, I have come to learn that their relational wives were the community builders. If a man has lost his wife through death, divorce, or separation, he is likely in isolation, and that can be a lonely, fearful, sad place to be. Families, build up your men. Encourage them. Respect them. As Shannon Ethridge points out in her book, Every Woman’s Battle, she came to learn that men desired respect more than love. Respect to a man is what love is for a woman.
Men, a good soldier knows when to retreat, and when to call for back up. If you are fighting this war, remember, there is always hope. Let me repeat that. There is always hope. When you’re in the trenches, you feel the enemy near, and you can’t see for the life of you how this war will be won, it’s time to call for back up.
We must be aware to help others. We must listen well, and also have the courage to help ourselves.
In memory of my husband, and all the other men and women who struggle in silence, feeling at the end of themselves, I leave you with a song by Jonny Lang, called Only a man.