Silvia Sara Canetto, a psychology professor at Colorado State University who has spent several years attempting to make sense of the global variation in women’s and men’s suicide mortality, recently discovered that suicide rates are generally higher for men than for women, but not everywhere, implying cultural influences.
The researchers published their findings in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. Canetto conducted research on suicide patterns and meanings across cultures for the study. He and his colleagues recently completed a new study that shed light on the factors that may contribute to men’s vulnerability to suicide. The study tests Canetto’s hypothesis that men’s suicide mortality is related to their private-life behaviours, specifically their low engagement in family care work – not just to the difficulties they may face in their public lives, such as employment.
Theories of male suicide
Numerous theories have been advanced to account for male suicide, Canetto stated. The majority attribute men’s suicide mortality to the stresses and demands of their jobs and economic provider roles. These theories typically predict that when men’s employment and economic provider roles are threatened, male suicide rates will increase.
Within this framework, the typical recommendation for suicide prevention is to strengthen men’s employment/economic provider roles, for example, through programmes that protect or assist men in finding work. However, research indicates that economic hardships, including male unemployment, do not fully account for men’s suicide vulnerability. According to Canetto, men overinvest in economic provider work and underinvest in family caregiver work, putting them at risk when economic provider work is threatened or lost.
Men’s family caregiving, unemployment, and suicide
Canetto, Ying-Yeh Chen, ZiYi Cai, Qingsong Chang, and Paul Yip co-authored the multinational and multidisciplinary study, which was published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. Family caregiving was defined in their study as providing personal care or education for a child, as well as caring for a dependent adult.
Suicide, male family caregivers, and unemployment were examined in 20 countries, including the United States, Austria, Belgium, Canada, and Japan. Suicide rates were found to be lower in countries where men were reported to be more involved in family care. Increased unemployment rates were not associated with an increase in male suicide rates in countries where men reported more such care work. In contrast, higher unemployment rates were associated with increased male suicide rates in countries where men reported less family care work. Furthermore, unemployment benefits had no effect on male suicide rates.
Taken together, the findings of this ecological study suggest that men’s family care work may protect them from suicide, especially during times of economic hardship, Canetto said. “Our study was conducted from a public health standpoint. It examined population-level social and economic factors that could be influencing population suicide patterns in a variety of countries “As Canetto stated. “The study’s findings suggest new avenues for suicide prevention.”
“Men appear to benefit from family care work in terms of preventing suicide. Men can diversify their sources of meaning and purpose, as well as their social capital and networks, by engaging in family care work “Canetto stated. Increased male involvement in family care work would also relieve women of their disproportionate caregiving responsibilities and provide additional resources for children.
The study’s findings suggest that programmes aimed at reducing men’s suicide mortality should incorporate support for engagement in family care work. “This requires moving beyond the dominant frameworks of men’s suicide prevention, which are centred on employment support,” Canetto explained. “It also entails moving beyond the simplistic view of suicide as a mental health problem that can be resolved through mental health ‘treatments.'”
Finally, Canetto noted that the study’s findings corroborate those of other studies. They conclude that “having both family care work and economic responsibilities is more beneficial to men and women’s well-being, health, and longevity than a gendered division of family labour.”
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