Globe and Mail

Suicide study surprises

Males in their mid-forties most likely to take their lives, Ontario group finds

By DAWN WALTON
Thursday, November 29, 2001 – Print Edition, Page A10
The Globe and Mail

Middle-aged men in Ontario are more likely to kill themselves than die in car crashes or succumb to other injuries, a national health agency reported yesterday.

The non-profit Canadian Institute for Health Information found that 1,012 people killed themselves in that province in 1998-99, but the vast majority of them -- 79 per cent -- were men with an average age of 44.

"The common perception is that suicide is something that affects teens and young men more than anything," said Greg Webster, the institute's manager of clinical registries. "We did find it surprising that for middle-aged men [aged 35 to 64], it was the leading cause of injury-related death."

Mr. Webster speculated that the Ontario findings would likely apply across the country. But because each province and the federal government gather data independently, it's not clear whether suicide would be the leading cause of injury-related death for men in mid-life across the country.

The institute, which has offices in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, is now working with medical examiners across the country and Statistics Canada to design a nationwide survey.

According to Statscan data for 1997, the highest rates of suicide -- about 25 per 100,000 people -- was among men aged 20 to 64.

That compared with the highest suicide rate for women -- 7.6 per 100,000 people -- among those aged 45 to 64, according to Statscan. According to the institute's data for Ontario, suicide is not the leading cause of injury-related death for women in any age group.

Marilyn Doyle, suicide-prevention program co-ordinator with the Support Network in Edmonton, said she wasn't surprised by the findings in Ontario.

In Alberta, suicides have been the leading cause of injury-related deaths each year between 1993 and 1997, according to the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research. The rates are highest among men aged 20 to 44.

But Ms. Doyle said she doesn't think it means that middle-aged men are more apt to turn to suicide than women are. Only the results are different.

"Men tend to chose more lethal means."

She said men are more likely to use firearms or hang themselves, while women will try overdosing with drugs or alcohol or use vehicle exhaust -- methods that are less violent and where rescuers can intervene more easily.

The Ontario study found that men most often used guns or hanged themselves, while women overdosed or jumped to kill themselves.

As another possible reason for the disparity in suicide rates between men and women, Ms. Doyle suggested that men are less likely to turn to others for help at the risk of being perceived as weak.

Isaac Sakinofsky, who has studied the issue for 35 years and practises at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, also cited choice of method and gender roles for the differences.

He said suicide is, in part, a reaction to increasing responsibility, which can make some vulnerable to mental illness and make them turn to death to escape problems.

"If men are beaten by circumstances, they could become more aggressive than females," Dr. Sakinofsky said.

Copyright 2001 Globe Interactive, a division of Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.