MALE SUICIDE: WILLFUL OR BENIGN NEGLECT?
In a recent encounter, the representative of a national women's
rights organization was asked how she felt about the fact that the
great majority of murder victims in the U.S. were men. Her answer was
blunt: "We don't care if men kill themselves off."
In October 2002, Men's Health America released a Special Report that
documented how the WHO Report on Violence and Health repeatedly
downplays instances of male victimization (1). One of the rebuttals we
received to this conclusion was, "Since men are more likely to be the
perpetrators of violence, isn't the emphasis on female victimization
That response mirrors the "We don't care if men kill themselves off"
belief. That attitude can be considered an example of willful neglect -
- people are aware of the problem, but consciously chose to ignore it.
In contrast, benign neglect can be described as avoidance of a
problem due to lack of knowledge or understanding.
The crisis of male suicide is shrouded in silence and neglect. No one
knows the extent to which that silence is willful or benign. And it
probably doesn't matter.
The DHHS Response Is Unlikely to Succeed
This series of reports has documented the following:
1. Male suicide is a widespread and troubling problem (2).
2. Fathers who commit suicide often do so following a divorce and loss
of child custody (3).
3. Male suicide is a problem that is cloaked in silence and neglect
4. Federal agencies such as the National Institute of Mental Health
disseminate misleading information about male suicide (5).
Overall, these reports have documented how the Department of Health
and Human Services agencies that are charged with leading the nation's
fight against suicide have failed to acknowledge, much less remedy, the
social and legal causes of male suicide.
On top of that, a review of the websites of these agencies fails to
locate a single DHHS research study, fact sheet, or program that is
male-specific. This is not surprising, in light of the fact that of the
11 goals and 68 objectives that the DHHS has laid out, all of them are
written in a sanitized, gender-neutral language (6).
This is similar to designing a program to stop breast cancer, and
failing to account for the fact women are the predominant victims of
this disease. In short, the DHHS Goals and Objectives for Action, as
currently conceived, are unlikely to succeed because they ignore the
fact that being male is the number risk factor for suicide.
Gone, But Not Silenced
Each year, over 23,000 American men kill themselves. That translates
into 65 male suicides, day in and day out. That is a social tragedy and
a national crisis.
Hopefully, only a small number of Americans share the attitude that
"We don't care if men kill themselves off." But clearly, men -- and the
women who care about men -- need to stand up and speak out if we want
things to change.
Because only we the living can overcome the silence and the void left
behind by those men who have taken their own lives.
Express Your Concern:
Clarissa Wittenberg, Director of the NIMH Office of Communications:
Thomas R. Insel, MD, Director of the NIMH: email@example.com.
1. Men's Health America: The WHO Violence Report: When Victimization
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/menshealth, Message Number 596.
2. Men's Health America: The Continuing Tragedy of Male Suicide.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/menshealth, Message Number 625
3. Men's Health America: Dads Who Take Their Lives.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/menshealth, Message Number 626
4. Men's Health America: Male Suicide: Shrouded in Silence and Neglect.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/menshealth, Message Number 627.
5. Men's Health America: Disinformation from the NIMH.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/menshealth, Message Number 629.
6. National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.