Battling an Increase in Suicides Among Women

by Kelli Barrett

| 3 min read

Framed black and white image of a woman on a mantel.
Fashion designer Kate Spade, the maker of cute and colorful purses that evolved into a lifestyle brand, took her life on June 5, 2018. It was days before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report showing a number of alarming statistics. Perhaps you’ve heard some of them: Since 1999, suicide rates went up in almost every state and nearly 45,000 people in the U.S. killed themselves in 2016. CDC researchers found another troubling trend. The proportion of women who died by suicide increased 50 percent between 2000 and 2016 with the highest amount among women aged 45-64. Male suicides continue to outpace females, with the rate growing 21 percent in the decade and a half studied. But as women continue to take their own lives at an accelerated pace, this gender gap is shrinking. Pinpointing reasons for the uptick are difficult – like everything related to suicide. Causes are often cryptic. “We are still learning through research what factors may uniquely contribute to suicide among women,” said Doreen Marshall, a psychologist and vice president of programs at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. If you're thinking about suicide or are worried about someone you know, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. TTY: 1-800-799-4889. Doctors and health care professionals continue to develop theories, educated guesses and possible approaches to combat this trend. “Certain themes emerge in women suicides,” said Kristyn Gregory, a psychiatrist and the medical director of behavioral health at Blue Care Network. One possible connection: Suicides within the 10-14 age group increased substantially. Considering that the 45-64 age group experienced the biggest rise, some researchers are exploring links to the menstrual cycle. Other themes include:
  • Death of a loved one
  • Social isolation
  • History of sexual assault
  • Challenges related to motherhood: Infertility, postnatal depression or loss of custody
Recognizing life circumstances and screening for depression and suicide at the peak ages may help curb this trend, Gregory said. Worrying workload? Life stressors, which can include motherhood along with a wide-range of other issues such as relationship and financial problems, often factor into a suicide, researchers said. Women’s lives and their stress points have certainly changed over the past generation. They’re more likely to be the primary wage earner while still maintaining the role of main caregiver. In a lot of cases, that can mean taking care of children and aging parents. While these types of stressors did indeed occur in previous generations, it’s much more prevalent today. “Coupling these types of stressors with other factors like untreated mental health concerns can increase an individual’s risk for suicide,” Marshall said. Finding care that counts Ultimately, a deeper understanding of mental health and the precursors that lead to suicide will help everyone struggling – men and women of all ages. “Most experts agree that a lack of access to effective mental health care can be deadly,” Gregory said. Entire communities play a role in effective care. Suicide is difficult to talk about but listening and responding when people express warning signs such as hopelessness or withdrawal are critical to prevention. Counselors, doctors and specialists can help people recognize these warning signs and respond accordingly. More of this kind of education is needed, Marshall said, and it could be especially valuable to females. Women may be more likely than men to share concerns with a friend, family member or partner. “Efforts to improve mental health literacy for all genders will help lead more people to mental health care earlier,” said Marshall. “That’s likely to have a positive impact on suicide rates for all.” If you found this post helpful, you should also read:
Photo credit: EHStock

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