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Research gives perception into elements that will contribute to males’s suicide vulnerability

Silvia Sara Canetto, professor of psychology at Colorado State University, has spent many years researching patterns and meanings of suicide by culture, trying to understand the variability in suicidal mortality between women and men around the world. Suicide rates are generally higher in men than women, but not everywhere – suggesting cultural influences.

Canetto and colleagues have completed a new study that sheds light on what can contribute to men’s suicide risk. The study tests Canetto’s theory that men’s suicidal mortality is related to men’s personal behavior, particularly their low level of involvement in family care – not just the adversity they may face in aspects of their public life such as employment.

Male suicide theories

Many theories have been proposed to explain men’s suicide, Canetto said. Most associate the suicidal mortality of men with the pressures and demands of their employment and their role as economic providers. These theories typically predict that men’s suicide rates would be higher if their employment and economic utility role were threatened.

From this perspective, the typical recommendation for suicide prevention is to strengthen the role of men in employment / economic providers, for example through programs that protect or support the job search. However, studies show that economic adversity, including male unemployment, does not fully explain men’s suicidal tendencies.

According to Canetto, men invest too much in service provider work and underinvestment in family care – a pattern that leaves them vulnerable when service provider work is threatened or lost.

Caring for the family of men, unemployment and suicide

The multinational and multidisciplinary study, published by Canetto, Ying-Yeh Chen, ZiYi Cai, Qingsong Chang, and Paul Yip in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, provides evidence of a suicide protective role for men engaged in family care. In their study, family care was defined as the personal care or education of a child and / or the care of a dependent adult.

The researchers looked at suicide, male family care, and unemployment in 20 countries, including the United States, Austria, Belgium, Canada, and Japan. It found that suicide rates were lower in countries where men reported more family care activities.

In countries where men were more likely to report such caring activities, higher unemployment rates were not associated with higher suicide rates among men. In contrast, in countries where men reported less family care, higher unemployment rates were associated with higher male suicide rates. Incidentally, unemployment benefits did not lower the suicide rate among men.

In summary, the results of this ecological study suggest that caring for the family of men can protect them from suicide, especially in difficult economic conditions, Canetto said.

Our study took a public health perspective. It examined social and economic factors at the population level that can lead to population patterns of suicide in a number of countries. The results point to new directions for suicide prevention. “

Silvia Sara Canetto, Professor of Psychology, Colorado State University

“It seems that men benefit from family care in terms of suicide protection. Family care would be an opportunity for men to diversify their sources of meaning and purpose, as well as their social capital and networks,” says Canetto. A stronger involvement of men in family care would also relieve women of their disproportionate care burden and make more resources available to the children.

The results of the study suggest that support for family care engagement is being incorporated into programs aimed at lowering suicidal mortality among men. “This means going beyond the prevailing framework of men’s suicide prevention with their focus on employment support,” said Canetto. “It also means that suicide is not just treated as a psychological problem, but has to be resolved with psychological ‘treatments’.”

Finally, Canetto pointed out that the study’s results were in line with other research. Taken together, they suggest that “both family care work and family economic responsibility are more conducive to the well-being, health and longevity of men and women than a gender-specific division of family work”.


Colorado State University

Journal reference:

Chen, YY., Et al. (2021) Care as suicide prevention: an ecological study of 20 countries on the relationship between family care work for men, unemployment and suicide. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. doi.org/10.1007/s00127-021-02095-9.

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