Suicide is a Predominantly Male Problem

Randolph Nesse, M.D. and colleagues at the University of Michigan examined premature deaths among men in 20 countries. They suggest that as many as 375,000 lives could be saved in the US alone if male mortality rates were brought into line with those of women. Being male is now the single largest demographic factor for early death, the study concluded. "If you could make male mortality rates the same as female rates, you would do more good than curing cancer," Nesse says.[i]

Nowhere is this more evident than in looking at suicide rates. Each year, about 31,000 Americans commit suicide, making it the eighth leading cause of death in the United States. Almost every American has a relative, friend, or acquaintance who has killed himself. But what is often lost in the statistics and reports of suicide among “Americans,” or our “youth” or “high school” or “college” students is that the vast majority of these deaths occur in males.

Once thought to be primarily a white male problem, suicide is increasingly dramatically in the Black community. “The staggering growth in the number of black male suicides over the last 10 years is shocking,” says Susan Burks a writer for the Denver Post. “Suicide is now

the third-leading cause of death for African-American males ages 15 through 24. Suicide among black youth, once uncommon, showed a rate increase of 233 percent increase for boys between the ages of 10 and 14. Black teenagers in this country are killing themselves at a rate of 5 per day. Sixty-five percent of them are using firearms to do it.”[ii]

Whether Black, Caucasian, or any other racial or ethnic group, the number one risk factor for suicide is being male. In 1999, the suicide death rate was 18.2/100,000 among males, and 4.1 in females. This means that male suicides outnumbered female suicides by a ratio of more than 4 to 1.[iii] The imbalance between the number of males who kill themselves and the number of females who die by their own hand is evident throughout the life-cycle as the following table illustrates:

Estimated Annual Suicide Rate per 100,000 by Age and Gender[iv]
Age Range

Points of Understanding

  • Even for children between 5 and 14 years of age when suicides are low, males are more than 3 times as likely to kill themselves as females.
  • For teens between 15 and 19 the ratio nearly doubles with males killing themselves 6 times as often as females.
  • During the young adult years, 20-24, the ratio jumps again to over 7 times.
  • In the adult years between 25 and 64, the male rate drops slightly and the female rate increases, but the ratio of male to female suicides is still more than 4 to 1.
  • However, in the retirement years after age between 65 and 85, the ratio more than doubles with more than 9 men killing themselves for every woman.
  • For the “old, old” over 85, the female rate drops slightly while the male rate increases dramatically. For those men who are fortunate to be alive after 85 fifteen times more men kill themselves than women.
  • There seem to be a number of factors that may account for the increased rate as men age. Being socially isolated, divorced, or widowed are important risk factors for men.[v]

The male suicide rate is also worrisome outside the United States. Worldwide, suicide claimed the lives of an estimated 815,000 people in 2000, the majority of which were males.[vi] The extent to which males outnumber females in suicide varies by country. For instance, in certain parts of China, where people most often kill themselves using chemical poisons found on rural farms, the numbers are nearly equal. However, in all other countries in the world males outnumber females. The sex disparity is especially high in countries of Eastern Europe and Latin America. Interestingly Puerto Rico has the highest ratio, with males killing themselves at rates more than 10 times that of females.[vii]

It is clear that men kill themselves at rates many times that of females in nearly all parts of the world. Yet females attempt suicide much more often. Most studies suggest that females experience depression at rates twice as high as males. Yet, we know that depression is highly associated with suicide. This raises some interesting and important questions. If the studies show that females tend to be more depressed than males, why do males have such high suicide rates? Are females really more depressed than males or are we failing to recognize depression in men? To answer these questions we need to delve more deeply into the world of depression.

[i] Being a man is bad for health. BBC News. July 24, 2002.

[ii] Susan Burks. Denver Post, January 3, 2003, Accessed on the internet January 12, 2003 at

[iii] National Center for Health Statistics: Health, United States, 2002. Hyattsville, MD, Table 30.

[iv] Summarized from R. Anderson, K. Kochanek & S. Murphy. Report of final mortality statistics. Monthly Vital Statistics Report, 45 (11), Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 1997 and from G. Murphy. Why women are less likely than men to commit suicide. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 39, 1998, 165-175. Reported in Sam V. Cochran and Fredric E. Rabinowitz. Men and Depression: Clinical and Empirical Perspectives. San Diego, California: Academic Press, 2000, p. 141.

[v] Centers for Disease Control: Suicide among Older Persons, United States, 1980-1992. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, January 12, 1996.

[vi] E.G. Krug, et al., eds. World report on violence and health. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2002, 185.

[vii] Ibid., 186-187.

©2010 Jed Diamond

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Wealth can't buy health, but health can buy wealth. - Henry David Thoreau


Jed Diamond is the internationally best-selling author of seven books including Male Menopause, now translated into 17 foreign languages and his latest book, The Irritable Male Syndrome: Managing. The 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression. For over 38 years he has been a leader in the field of men's health. He is a member of the International Scientific Board of the World Congress on Men’s Health and has been on the Board of Advisors of the Men’s Health Network since its founding in 1992. His work has been featured in major newspapers throughout the United States including the New York Times, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. He has been featured on more than 1,000 radio and T.V. programs including The View with Barbara Walters, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, CBS, NBC, and Fox News, To Tell the Truth, Extra, Leeza, Geraldo, and Joan Rivers. He also did a nationally televised special on Male Menopause for PBS. He looks forward to your feedback. E-Mail. You can visit his website at

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