Suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death among all ages, genders, and races. However, suicide prevention resources aren’t as available across the same groups.
September marks Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, including National Suicide Prevention Week and World Suicide Prevention Day on Sept. 10. Understanding the gender and racial differences in suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and deaths by suicide are essential for accurately directing and equalizing suicide prevention efforts. While American women are more likely to attempt suicide, American men are more likely to die by suicide.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, about 73% of the U.S. didn’t have enough mental health providers in 2020 to serve local residents based on federal guideline requirements. More than 12 million Americans have seriously contemplated suicide in their lifetime, and in 2019, 1.3 million acted on that consideration, resulting in 47,511 deaths that year.
Luckily, suicide is preventable with proper resources for education and prevention nationally, regionally, and locally.
How Do Gender and Race Affect Suicide Prevention?
One major barrier to mental healthcare resources is cost, and people of color have faced long-standing disparities in necessary coverage.
Prior to the Affordable Care Act, nearly 1 in 3 people of color were lacking healthcare coverage compared to just 13% of their white counterparts. Large increases in access to coverage were reported across all racial groups from 2010 to 2016, but the disparity between white coverage and that of communities of color continued.
Since 2017, coverage has declined again, reopening the cavern between white Americans with coverage and people of color without it. While only about 8% of white people 64 and under in 2019 were uninsured in the United States, about 20% of Latinx people and 22% of Asian people faced healthcare coverage gaps.
In order to access suicide prevention resources, people have to be comfortable with opening up about their feelings and, often, including therapy in their self-care regimen. Women are much more likely to visit a psychiatrist or psychologist than men — about half of American women are currently or have been in therapy, while about 30% of men have sought the same mental health services.
Psychologist Jill Harkavy-Friedman, vice-president of research for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, told BBC News the disparity between men and women has excited: as long as we’ve been recording it.” With the masculine stereotype of being “too strong to need help” mixed with the stigma of mental health, men often bottle up their feelings until it’s too late.
“We tell boys that boys don’t cry,” Colman O’Driscoll, former executive director of operations and development at Lifeline, said of the disparity. “We condition boys from a very young age to not express emotion, because to express emotion is to be ‘weak’.”
Breaking down the Numbers: Suicide Rates by Gender and Ethnicity
Mental health illnesses don’t discriminate by gender, race, or creed, but some populations are more likely to attempt suicide, have suicidal ideations, or die by suicide.
Overall, men die by suicide about 3 times as often as women in similar groups, and white men alone accounted for nearly 70% of the deaths by suicide in 2019. Women, however, were nearly 2 times more likely to attempt suicide than men with non-lethal actions.
Though the overall suicide rate in 2020 declined for the first time in decades, some early studies show it increased among communities of color. The pandemic has disproportionately affected people of color, including Latinx, Black, and Native American communities across the United States. According to the New York Times, 2 in every 5 Black and Latinx Americans have lost a close friend or family member to Covid-19.
Historically, white Americans are the majority of deaths by suicide annually, followed quickly by Native Americans. Black, Latinx, and Asian rates of suicide are much lower. As suicide rates have increased nationally, the statistics have increased across all races equally.
The one statistic that stays constant year after year across all groups: At least 90% of those who died by suicide had a diagnosable mental health condition at the time of their death.
Contact Us Today
When it comes to mental health, no one can fight an uphill battle alone. If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, we’re here to help. Contact us to set up an appointment, and stop the stigma of being “too strong” to need help.
If you’re considering suicide, or are worried about a loved one, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 for free, confidential support 24/7. We can all help prevent suicide.