Calgary Herald

Saturday, April 22, 2000

Suicide leads death cause for males 10-49 years

Joe Woodard, Calgary Herald

A tragic fact went almost unnoticed in the Health of the Calgary Region report, released by the CRHA in late March. The leading cause of death for males, aged 10-49 years, is suicide. There were 109 suicides in the greater health region in 1998 and more than 80 per cent of them were males.

For Calgary women, suicide does not register as a leading cause of death. And for all men, including those over 50, it ranks only fifth, behind medical causes like heart disease and stroke.

But suicide so dominates the mortality of men under 49 that it robs more years from males, overall, than breast cancer robs from females. "Nobody's screaming about this," said Gerry Harrington, director of Calgary's Suicide Information and Education Centre. "Nobody's screaming, if your boy dies before the age of 19, he'll likely have killed himself. If your husband or father dies before he's 50, he'll likely have committed suicide. So far, we haven't faced the problem."According to Calgary's chief medical examiner's office, there were 96 suicides within city limits in 1998:

10-19 years:7
20-29 years:16
30-39 years:27
40-49 years:21
50-59 years:8
60-69 years:9
70+ years:8

Of the 71 Calgary city suicides in the under-49 age range, 13 were females, while 58 - more than four times as many - were males. All the suicides in the 10-19 age range were male.

Among adolescents, say the CRHA statistics, suicide caused about 28 per cent of deaths, more than homicides (23 per cent) or auto collisions (19 per cent). "Why males? That's the perennial question," said University of Calgary social work professor Richard Ramsay. "We want to find the cause of suicide, when in reality; there's a whole gamut of causes. Males are raised with the macho thing, they play with more lethal weapons, they have more severe teen identity crises, more sexual orientation issues.

"Suicide is often related to clinical depression, substance abuse or personality disorder. But at bottom, it's a relationship breakdown. A boy whose girlfriend dumped him, a man in a divorce. We're just not sensitive to male relationship issues. We expect boys and men to be tougher than they are."

Nancy Staniland, an injury control leader with the CRHA, said the suicide rate has not grown historically. Rather, the reduction in other causes of death have now brought it into prominence. Staniland said that dealing with the problem must involve both response to completed suicides and longer-term prevention. Harrington's SIEC runs a Suicide Prevention Training Program. And the Alberta Mental Health Board is drafting a provincial suicide prevention framework. But the co-ordinated effort is just beginning. "We need gatekeepers trained in suicide intervention - school teachers, youth workers, club leaders, coaches," said Staniland. "And everybody else - parents and friends - must learn to recognize the symptoms and know where to send at-risk kids."

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