Women and Suicide

I had just finished attending my monthly meeting of Survivors of Suicide (SOS) group a few weeks ago. While my son took his life in 1993, I still go to the meetings on and off to find companionship and like-minded grieving people to share our stories. As I drove home, what struck me were two things:   1-How many moms lost sons or wives lost husbands (males) 2-and how many women were left behind to pick up the pieces.

Somehow this gender difference never really struck me as strongly, even though I had been going to SOS for over 20 years. Why, I wondered to myself—did I see suicide as a male phenomenon and miss the females’ ‘left behind’ grief? I think for me that I just expect men to die and women to stay healthier and be in charge of families.

When I arrived home, I received a shocking e-mail news bulletin from the CDC. Between 1999 and 2014 the largest rate increase in suicide of any age group occurred in girls 10-14—tripling over 15 years from 0.5 to 1.7 per 100,000 people.   And attempts for that age group between the years 2001-2014 increased by 135%!

Also, the study revealed that all female attempts and hospitalizations far exceeded males even though the suicide rate and numbers were still overall higher for males.   Further, women’s suicide rates increased for ALL age groups under 75 by 60% (compared to 28% increase for men!)

I read on: The reasons for the increase in the suicide rate over the past 15 years are many and complex. There was a big push between the late 1980s and 1990s for health care providers to identify and treat depression and other mental health problems; some of this progress was undone in recent years because of concerns that antidepressants could increase suicide risk.

Doctors became wary of prescribing mood medications because of this precaution despite the facts that patients could be significantly helped by these.

Women clearly epitomize ‘suicidal despair’ but live with this suffering that can turn into depression easily. They are also the ones left to support the family economically, socially, spiritually, emotionally —despite the fact that they too may have suicidal thought through the ‘contagion’ of living with a person who took their life. This is me, I thought.

Women are more open to getting help with depression but more often than men take on everyone else’s problems as their own—resulting in more mood disorders.   Experts call these ‘psychosocial stressors’ –which means relationship issues and caregiver issues as the same time filling their role of breadwinners in the family. This is me, I thought.

Clearly, what I saw at my SOS meeting is the ‘tip of the iceberg’ for grieving women —and for women who might be vulnerable to ‘suicide despair’. As for me, I am one of them.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline:   1-800-273-8255

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