There are three female suicide attempts for every male suicide attempt. True or false?

The male:female suicide rate differential in the UK almost doubled between 1982 – 2012, from 1.69:1 to 3.3:1. The differential would be larger – possibly much larger – if the disproportionate number of men killing themselves through excessive alcohol consumption, risky behaviours etc. was included.

The fact that three times more women than men ‘attempt’ suicide has long been explained by suicide prevention charities as resulting from women’s greater expectation of support following ‘cries of help’ – e.g. swallowing a large number of paracetamol tablets, then calling 999 for an ambulance – than men would have. But is the 3:1 ‘attempted suicide attempt differential’ based on empirical evidence? At least in the US – and why would it be very different in the UK? – the answer would appear to be a resounding No.

About Mike Buchanan

I'm a men's human rights advocate, writer, and publisher. My primary focus is leading the political party I launched in 2013, Justice for Men & Boys (and the women who love them). I still work actively on two campaigns I launched in early 2012, Campaign for Merit in Business and the Anti-Feminism League. In 2014 I launched The Alternative Sexism Project, aiming to raise public understanding that the sexism faced by men and boys has far more grievous consequences than the sexism faced by women and girls.
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  • rawbradford

    Like the USA, in the UK there is no statutory body charged with collecting data on attempted suicide. The best data on attempted suicide that I am aware of for the UK is from the Oxford Centre for Suicide Research whose latest report is “Self-Harm in Oxford 2011″, Although restricted to cases of self-harm presenting at a single hospital, the advantage of this Oxford group is that they have been collecting data on a consistent basis in the same place since 1976, and so is probably a unique resource. (I have no connection with them).

    Statistics on attempted suicide are intrinsically unclear because it is uncertain if a given instance of self harm is actually a suicide attempt. In recognition of this the Oxford group uses a “suicide intent scale” to measure how serious people appeared to be to kill themselves in a given incident. The median suicide intent score for males was 10 and for females was 8. High intent, defined as a score in excess of 13, was found for 30.0% of males and 26.8% of females. The histograms of intent scores did not look very different between the sexes (to my eye, at least).

    Over all intent scores the sex ratio of people presenting with self-harm was 1.4 women to each man in 2010. This is the best indication I have seen and I suggest this is a more reliable guide than the “three times more women” myth.

    Moreover, between 2010 and 2011 the number of men presenting with self-harm increased by 11.2% whilst the number of women decreased by 1.2%, so the 1.4 ratio may be falling.

    Attempted suicides, unlike successful suicides, can be asked the reason. What emerges shows a broad similarity in motivation between the sexes. In particular their partner was cited as the reason in 41.9% of cases by men and in 39.4% of cases by women. Other family members were cited somewhat more often as the cause by women than men, whereas men cite alcohol and financial problems rather more often than women.

  • ” ‘cries of help’ – e.g. swallowing a large number of paracetamol tablets, then calling 999 for an ambulance ”

    Swallowing a large number of paracetamol tablets is NOT a safe behaviour. Paracetamol is a greater cause of death than intimate partner violence. It isn’t even safe if one calls an ambulance beforehand, and only starts swallowing the paracetamol after the ambulance has safely arrived outside one’s front door, so that one can answer the door to the ambulance crew at the same time as washing down the final paracetamol of one’s planned overdose.

    Overdosing just once on paracetamol is likely to trigger lethal acute liver failure, days, weeks or even months later, maybe long after one has forgotten the reason one once had for making the suicidal gesture concerned. Trivialising paracetamol overdosing by using it as an icon for the feeble suicide gesture, endangers lives, by suggesting to the vulnerable reader that this practise is a safe method of making a suicidal gesture, a “cry of help”. Paracetamol is a killer. There is not enough awareness of this fact. One can accidentally kill oneself by overdosing on paracetamol whilst in hospital, watched taking the overdose by health professionals who immediately act in an attempt to minimise the harm that the overdose inflicts.