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Men's Health America Special Report


Throughout the United States, suicide is social crisis that
predominantly affects men. In the United States, male suicides
female suicides on a scale of 4 to 1 (1). Male suicide is especially
common among divorced men (2) and among men who are greater than 65
years of age (3).

A man who contemplates suicide is saying to himself, "I don't see any
way out of this mess. There is no hope."

One of the reasons why men lose hope is because society itself
downplays, distorts, or even ignores the problem. This Special Report
documents three examples of this neglect.

1. Centers for Disease Control

The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), based in Atlanta, GA,
is responsible for coordinating the federal government's efforts in
disease prevention and health promotion. The CDC publishes a widely-
read summary of health statistics and trends known as the Morbidity
Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

The March 20, 1998 issue of MMWR issued a report entitled, "Suicide
among Black Youths -- United States, 1980-1995." The report analyzed
trends in suicide rates among persons 10-19 years old over a 15-year
period. The CDC report concluded that "suicidal behavior among all
youths has increased; however, rates for black youths have increased

Unfortunately, this conclusion was grossly incorrect. This is what
the data actually showed (4):

1. White males had the highest suicide rate, and that rate increased
significantly from 1980 to 1995.

2. Black males had the second highest suicide rate, and that rate
than doubled over the 15 years.

3. While White females faced a slight increase in their suicide rate,
their suicides were still a fraction of their male counterparts.

4. Among Black females, suicide rates were so low that statistical
trends were unreliable.

Thus, an accurate summary of the data would have stated: "Suicidal
behavior among male youths has increased signficantly; however, rates
for black males have more than doubled."

2. World Health Organization

The World Health Organization recently issued its Report on Violence
and Health. The report analyzes trends in violence in such areas as
homicide, domestic violence, child abuse, and suicide. The report
concludes that violence accounts for 14% of deaths among males, and
of deaths among females (5).

Chapter 7 of the report addresses Self-Directed Violence, which
includes suicide. The chapter notes that suicide is the 13th leading
cause of death internationally. However, the sex disparity is not
mentioned until the sixth page of the discussion.

The bland tone of the discussion also serves to downplay the
seriousness of the disparity: On page 188, we learn, "Suicide rates
higher among men than women....On average, it appears that there are
about three male suicides for every female one."

The use of the academic qualifier, "it appears," implies that
substantial doubt exists about the validity of the statistics.

A more accurate statement would have said, "Male gender is the single
most important risk factor for suicide. On average, the male-female
ratio of suicides is 3.5 to 1."

3. National Institute of Mental Health

The NIH National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is the federal
agency that is leading the national effort to research the causes and
prevention of suicide.

These are the suicide prevention initiatives at the National
Institute of Mental Health:

A. Research
The NIMH has a $1.3 billion research budget. The NIMH has developed a
research initiative on suicide in youth (6). But not one penny of the
NIMH budget is directed to researching suicide specifically in males.

B. Publications
The NIHM features a Fact Sheet on suicide in older adults (7). But
the NIMH has no Fact Sheets or other publications that are male-

C. Office for Special Populations
The NIMH has an Office for Special Populations that is designed to
target high-risk populations (8). The Office is urging persons to pay
more attention to the problems of women's health, which may
decrease the attention paid to men's health.

Overcoming the Silence and the Neglect

In the CDC report, statistics were inappropriately combined, leading
to the complete neglect of the crisis of male suicide.

In the WHO report, the sex disparity in suicide rates was not even
discussed until the sixth page of the chapter, and even then, was
explained using sanitized terminology.

At the National Institute of Mental Health, no male-specific research
or publications are being sponsored, and the NIMH Office for Special
Populations emphasizes the mental health needs of women, while
the mental health needs of men.

Since suicide predominantly affects boys and men, suicide prevention
programs need to be male-specific, and address the underlying social
and psychological causes that affect men. This common sense principle
is used in designing female-specific programs on osteoporosis, eating
disorders, and breast cancer. But as we see, none of the federal
suicide prevention programs meets this basic requirement.

The problem of male suicide has long been shrouded in silence and
neglect. But we the living have the power to lift that shroud.

It's probably too late to get the CDC to redo their 1988 report. But
it's not too late to complain to World Health Organization and the
National Institute of Mental Health about their neglect of male

These are the people to contact:
WHO: Dr. Etienne Krug,
kruge@w... (
NIMH: Dr. Thomas Insel, Director,
ti4g@n... (


1. National Center for Health Statistics: Health, United States,
Hyattsville, MD, Table 30.

2. Kposowa AJ. Marital status and suicide in the National
Mortality Study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2000;

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

4. Would a US Federal Agency Mislead the Public and Endanger Children
to Protect a Cabinet Secretary's Feminist Agenda? 1998.

5. Krug E: WHO Report on Violence and Health, Geneva: World Health
Organization, 2002.




This Special Report was originally posted at
group/menshealth/messages, Message Number 626, on December 4, 2002.

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