National Post

Monday, February 15, 1999

Quebec men more likely to commit suicide than women
Rate is especially high among baby boomers, statistics reveal

Lynn Moore
The Gazette

Women in Quebec talk more about it, but when it comes to doing it -- committing suicide -- it's men who actually do the deed. It's a gender gap that needs explaining, say suicide prevention experts who point to statistics that show 80% of Quebec suicides are male.

"The high rate of male suicide is becoming a pressing public heath issue," Louise Levesque, head of the Association Quebecoise de suicidologie, said yesterday during a press conference to launch Suicide Prevention Week.

Of the 1,351 Quebecers who committed suicide in 1997, 1,071 were male and 280 were female, said Pierre Morin, Quebec's chief coroner, citing the most recent figures available.

Especially alarming is the high suicide rate among male "baby boomers," Mr. Morin said. Almost 2,000 men, aged 35 to 50, committed suicide during the last five years for which statistics are available, he said.

According to Statistics Canada, Quebec has the highest rate of suicide of any province and that is nothing to be proud of, said Gilles Baril, Quebec's junior health minister.

"We have to get to the point where suicide is not seen as an acceptable solution to end a person's suffering," Mr. Baril said.

There are various theories as to why dramatically more Quebec men than women kill themselves, but there are no solid answers, Ms. Levesque and other experts said yesterday.

"The only common factor in the the suicides is the suffering," said Ms. Levesque, whose government-funded association acts as an umbrella group for suicide-prevention agencies and suicide-prevention centres.

"We have to dare talk about suicide, about male suicide and about male suffering," she said.

Women tend to be willing to discuss their problems and tend to have larger support networks than men, she said. Even if men were as willing to discuss their problems, they often don't know where to turn.

And, it seems increasingly clear that the way men manifest their distress or depression is misunderstood, Ms. Levesque said.

A man with suicidal thoughts may take refuge in alcohol or drugs, or display aggressive or violent behaviour, she said. While violent behaviour should never be considered acceptable, people might want to question why a man is acting in such a fashion.

Michel Presseault, who trains counsellors for Suicide-Action Montreal, is a member of AQS. He said yesterday that his hotline handles about 25,000 calls a year, about 17,000 of them from people who say they are feeling suicidal.

Most callers are women, indicating that women are more likely to seek help, he said.

And when women attempt suicide they often fail; men, who tend to use firearms rather than pills, tend to be successful in their suicide bids, he said.

Mr. Presseault suggested that Quebec men aged 50 and older feel pressure to be "the mainstay of the family," he said.

While younger men may escape some of that pressure, they are still expected to act in a "manly fashion," he said.

"Even men who are not 'macho' have their macho corner and they don't think they can talk about their problems," he said.

Mr. Morin said that he didn't know if the gender gap visible in Quebec's suicide statistics is seen elsewhere in North America. But in industrialized countries with high suicide rates, such as Finland, there are similar gender gaps, he said.

Over the past 20 years in Quebec, the suicide rate among men has increased by 78%, and by 25% among women, he said.

While Quebec is often portrayed as distinct, there doesn't appear to be any one characteristic of Quebec society or Quebec men that would explain the high suicide rate for Quebec men, Ms. Levesque said.

Copyright Southam Inc.