About 80% of all suicides are male. Alcohol and substance misuse is commoner in males and unemployment may be a more significant risk factor in males who complete suicide. It appears that it may be harder for males to find their role and identity in our society where ‘a credit card is all you need’.
It is hardly surprising then that the unemployed male who may see themselves at the bottom of the male hierarchy is more likely to suicide.
Unemployed males would appear to suffer significant identity diffusion, be on a different track to other males, employed and driving their BMWs.
Indeed the difficulties with the male finding a role and being lost are particularly a feature of young male adulthood. The Sunday Times in 2004 stated that ‘the sperm bank is the perfect father’ and had another statement as follows ‘women longing for a baby (but) decide to go it alone’. The male has become more marginalized in our society in recent times. Females have entered the workplace in great numbers but still have retain their fundamental biological role that is in reproduction.
The male brain has strengths in mechanics, engineering, and mathematics. These talents do not help in the mental processing of psychological distress. In addition males tend to be more aggressive, impulsive, and are therefore at increased risk of engaging in fatal suicidal behaviour. Simon Baron-Cohen points out that good systematisers are also skilled at understanding and exploiting natural systems. The males are therefore good as hunters and trackers. The male is good at mechanical systems and constructing tools. The male is good at making weapons and fighting. Good systematising helps the male to be good at working on the stock markets. Males are particularly good at climbing hierarchical poles. The combination of low empathising (male) and high systematising (male) means a rapid ascent to the top of the ‘social pile’. Males are more single minded. Nevertheless all these feature may make suicide more likely.
Males in severe psychological distress using the ‘stiff upper lip’ strategy are particularly at risk. It is possible that some of them feel that being in distress is to be unmasculine is to be lacking machismo, which is experienced as intolerable, who then in this highly distressed state undertake suicide. Males are better at map reading. The male language is sometimes more egocentric. Males are more aggressive and get involved in more crime and homicide. Systematising is our most powerful way of understanding and predicting the law – governed inanimate universe. Understanding the inanimate universe is not much good when a human being male is highly stressed and contemplating suicide. A great deal of this material is also covered in my book Autism and Creativity: Is there a link between Autism in Men and Exceptional Ability? Published by Brunner-Routledge, 2004. The extreme male brain theory of autism is based on superior systematizing.
The female brain according to Simon Baron-Cohen is hard wired for empathy, and the male to understand and build systems. In the long term it is likely that the human genome will pinpoint multiple genes of small effect that control empathising and systematising. Females are better at sharing and turn taking, at responding empathically to distress of other people, are better at being sensitive to facial expressions, and value relationships more.
Empathising is the drive to identify another person’s emotions and thoughts, and to respond to these with appropriate emotion. Females are high in empathising and low in systematising. Females are much better than males at reciprocal communication. Females are also better at reading non-verbal behaviour. Females tend to be more compassionate and tolerant. Females have superior capacity at communication and interpersonal relationships which may mean that they are less vulnerable to completing suicide.
The female has a more clearly defined role with reproduction and rearing children. Females are more developed human beings in terms of empathy and interpersonal skills. They have better social skills. They have better capacity to make social connections and are therefore less alienated and socially disconnected. This may reduce their suicide risk. (Prof. Fitzgerald is Chairman of the Irish Association of Suicidology)