If you know a man you suspect is being challenged by suicidal thoughts, knowing what to look for can make all the difference.

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Suicide continues to be a major public health concern. It’s consistently ranked in the top 10 leading causes of death since the 1980s.

The population most affected by this statistic is older white males at a significantly higher risk of suicide than women across all age groups.

The signs and symptoms of suicide in men can be identified by looking for specific changes in their attitude, behavior, and personality.

Language matters

Sex and gender exist on a spectrum. We use the terms “males,” “men,” and “women” throughout this article to reflect the terms that have been used historically to gender people. But your gender identity may not align with the categories and associated risk factors listed below.

A doctor can help you better understand what suicide symptoms will look like for you.

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If someone you know is showing any of these key signs or has any associated risk factors, they may need immediate assistance.

Over the past 20 years, there’s been a gradual increase in suicides across men of all ages.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), in 2020:

  • men of all age groups died by suicide 3.9 times more than women
  • women attempted suicide 1.8 times more than men, but their actions were more likely to be nonfatal
  • there were over 1.2 million total nonfatal attempts and 45,979 total deaths from suicide

Overall, men over 45 are at the highest risk for suicide. According to the AFSP, middle-aged white males accounted for almost 70% of all suicide deaths in 2020. Historically, it’s been older men who most often die by suicide.

Since 2000, men ages 75 and older have had the highest rate of suicide among all age groups. While the overall trend has decreased slightly for this age group since 2000, the suicide rate among men of all other age groups has increased.

Over the last 20 years, men have maintained the highest rate of death by suicide compared to women, which has consistently been between 3 and 4 times higher.

The warning signs of suicide refer to the short-term contributing factors that are strongly associated with death by suicide.

Research from 2017 identified the following signs as potential indicators of suicide, though it also noted that more studies were needed to confirm:

Signs that precede death by suicide

  • expressions of suicidal intent
  • sense of helplessness
  • sense of worthlessness
  • desperation or frustration with seemingly unsolvable problems
  • sudden or incongruent positive mood
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The study also parsed imminent signs pointing toward a suicide attempt within 4 weeks, what they called “near term”:

Signs that indicate danger of a suicide attempt within minutes, hours, or days

  • expressions of suicidal intent
  • sudden or incongruent calmness or appearing “at peace”
  • anger
  • apathy
  • sense of hopelessness
  • high consequence behaviors
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The factors that can contribute to suicide in men have been well-established and include:

  • lower socioeconomic status
  • unemployment
  • relationship breakdowns
  • alcohol or drug misuse
  • divorce
  • alienation from their children
  • depression
  • chronic pain
  • prior suicide attempts
  • impulsivity and aggression
  • displacement of the traditional male gender role

A note on toxic masculinity

Perhaps the most complex among these is the present paradox of the traditional male gender role. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), this role is essentially a set of masculine ideals spread by society onto men, beginning at a young age.

These ideals (and subsequent pressures) include becoming:

  • a man who is self-sufficient
  • tough
  • emotionally restricted, among other qualities. His aspirations might include attaining power, control, elite status, and wealth.

It’s especially challenging for mental health because it discourages seeking help and can lead to feelings of shame and defeat.

The midlife crisis is a season in life where frustration, symptoms of depression, and distress over masculinity can climax.

Collectively, male stigmas and expectations can contribute to suicide risk and could threaten your psychological stability as a man.

If you’re a man or the partner of a man who’s been thinking about suicide, there are some things you can do today to help.

According to a 2017 review on suicide prevention, these tips were the most effective at preventing suicide in men:

  • Consider the potential benefit of recruiting a trusted and respected individual
  • Connect with others — talking with a male friend can help you feel less isolated
  • Consider learning new coping techniques, such as emotional regulation and cognitive reappraisal, as this research discusses

Remember that almost everyone believes that suicide can be prevented, and almost everyone would do something to help you if they knew you were experiencing suicidal thoughts.

If you’re currently in crisis:

For additional support: