The Malta Independent 22 May 2018, Tuesday

Why do men account for 88% of suicides in Malta?

Julian Bonnici Sunday, 11 February 2018, 12:00 Last update: about 4 months ago

The advent of the 21st century has seen western societies eagerly confront gender issues prevalent in our culture. It is a topic that triggers a powerful reaction from all sides of the political divide, but what is striking is that suicide, like mental health in general, is a gender issue that affects men and women in radically different ways, with the former accounting for 88 per cent of cases in Malta.

This appears to be a common trend globally, with more than three quarters of suicide victims in the UK being men. The rate in the US is 79 per cent.

Police figures from 2007 to 2017 provided to The Malta Independent on Sunday showed that of the 289 suicides which had taken place during the period, 255 of them were male, highlighting an alarming disparity between the genders across age groups.

This excludes minors, where there were four victims; two males and two females.

Given that mental health seems to be discussed only on somewhat superficial platforms like the Eurovision Song Contest, it is of little surprise that mental health among men remains the last bastion of social taboo.

Figures have remained worryingly consistent over the 10year period, indicating that little success was made in reducing the figure, with The Alliance for Mental Health calling for the introduction of a national strategy and new approach to mental health care following the unfortunate death of a patient who escaped from Mount Carmel Hospital.

It should be noted that the government has said that mental health does form part of the National Health Strategy and that Mount Carmel hospital is undergoing refurbishments, but the public is yet to be informed of comprehensive and clear measures to curb the figures.

What is the reason behind the gender gap?

The theories behind the gap vary, but a common explanation appears to be the societal and financial pressures faced by men, particularly in the hypermasculine Mediterranean culture, whether it is success, strength or sexual virility,

Males, it could be said, are also less likely to seek help and support when facing mental illness; the annual report for 2016 by the Commissioner for Mental Health revealed that 57 per cent of the 429 persons who were involuntary admission for observation in mental health institutions, were men.

However, as psychologist Dr Nigel Camilleri pointed out, research suggests that it is actually women who are more prone to psychological problems such as depression. In fact, according to studies conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, overall rates of mental health disorders tend to be around 20-40 per cent higher for women than for men.

Camilleri asserted that while women may suffer more from mental illnesses, what seems to be apparent is that men often sought more violent and finite means to take their own lives.

Corroborating his analysis is a European study which found that over 15,000 people receiving treatment after an attempt did find that men were more likely than women to have used violent methods to attempt suicide, but the difference was less pronounced.

The Commissioner’s annual report, which is a fully comprehensive analysis of data and evaluation of mental health patients and employers, also found notable differences in the distribution by gender with schizophrenia being more common among males and mood disorders more frequent among women.

Furthermore, the report found that men were three times more likely than females to be admitted due to drugs and alcohol.

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