“Debunking MRAs” Debunked – An Addendum on Suicide

In my original writing on the subject of suicide in “’Debunking MRAs’ Debunked”, I was being mathematically lazy.  Someone at the subreddit “feMRA debates” challenged me on where I got my numbers from.  They didn’t agree with how I used an example of 100 male suicides compared to 35 women attempting suicide 3 times.  They felt this was also a poor example as it actually meant 100 attempts on both sides.  To be honest, I just compared the idea of 100 single completed suicides to 100 incomplete attempts, divided by 3, because it was easier to make reflective percentages.  Due to this criticism, I chose to explore the numbers more accurately.

The statement is often framed poorly, such as “women attempt it three times as often”, which does not mean that women who attempt suicide do so three times as often individually, it means 3 times as many women attempt suicide as men.  Of course, there are those who attempt suicide multiple times, which inflates their numbers.  That is why I originally chose to tackle the numbers from a perspective of women attempting it 3 times, which is inaccurate.  Using more lazy math, it probably would have been more accurate to have asked which is more important, 100 male deaths by suicide, or 300 females who have attempted suicide and still alive to seek help for what pushed them to their attempt?  Instead, let’s look at the actual numbers that Owen Lloyd had.

According to the source given by “debunking MRAs”, in the U.S., there were 38,364 reported deaths by suicide in 2010, which is approximately one death by suicide every 14 minutes.  78.9% (30,269) of these were male.  21.1% (8,094) were female.

However, the argument that my calculations resulted in an equal number of attempts for both sexes is incorrect.  Completed suicides are not counted in the attempts.  The source says there is no complete count of attempted suicides, and that they arrive at their numbers by utilizing hospital reports of “non-fatal injuries resulting from self-harm behavior” collected by the CDC:

“In 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, 464,995 people visited a hospital for injuries due to self-harm behavior, suggesting that approximately 12 people harm themselves (not necessarily intending to take their lives) for every reported death by suicide. Together, those harming themselves made an estimated total of more than 650,000 hospital visits related to injuries sustained in one or more separate incidents of self-harm behavior.”

They admit that there is no way to distinguish genuine suicide attempts from non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) behaviours.  I assume the higher number of 650,000 is due to people making repeat visits, although, as mentioned above, “women attempt suicide 3 times as often” does not mean individual women attempt suicide at 3 times the rate of individual men, so we can’t determine the gender ratio of repeated attempts based on the information given.  487,500, 75%, of hospital visits can be attributed to females, while 162,500 visits can be attributed to men.

When framed in this fashion, it is also hard to make a concrete claim that women attempt suicide at three times the rate of men, as they state there is no way to differentiate a suicide attempt from NSSI with this data.  The stats on females being admitted to hospitals at 3 times the rate of males for self-harm behaviour makes sense when considering that “one of the most consistent findings in the research literature until the end of the 20th century was that NSSI occurred 1.5 to 3 times more in females compared to males.”  Furthermore, holding a gun to your head or putting a rope around your neck is not likely to warrant a hospital visit if you don’t follow through on what I would still perceive as a suicidal attempt.  Statistics do not account for these attempts, for men or for women.

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7 Responses to “Debunking MRAs” Debunked – An Addendum on Suicide

  1. Pingback: Canadian Association for Equality | “Debunking MRAs” Debunked

  2. Reality Check says:

    Even if women did attempt suicide three times as often then that would mean a man’s suicide attempt is 1200% more likely to succeed. I’m not going to misogynistically claim women are so incompetent that they can’t kill themselves even when they try to. It’s clear these aren’t real suicide attempts (just tragically drastic calls for help) and/or they somehow have significantly better support from family and friends to constantly stop them from dying.

    • eyeofwoden says:

      It may not even be cries for help. They get their stats from self-injury reports, so it may just be someone using the coping mechanism of cutting and over-doing it. I would think that’s in the minority though. Truth is, it’s not a definitive claim.

      • Foss Lee says:

        I knew a person who cut all the time. But more than that, she demanded people watch her cut and made an entire production out of it. Her cutting was condersidered an attempt. She considered it an attempt. But the fact is, she never actually intended to die. She had too many outs- like making people watch, people who knew where she lived.

        Her bf sliced his arm from wrist to elbow and hid, didn’t tell anyone. He was found and it took like 100 stitches and a blood transfusion to save him. He spent 6mths on a ward.

        Two entirely different things.

        What is needed is some kind of universal scale that rates the severity of the self-harm so we don’t continue to rely on useless data sets.

      • eyeofwoden says:

        If she never went to a hospital, it didn’t count as an attempt in the stats.

        One of my previous clients cut regularly. I used to use his arms as a measuring stick for how well he was doing. If they were healed, he had been doing well. Self-harm is usually a coping mechanism for other issues. The thing is we do have to treat it seriously, because sometimes, even if they make a big show of it, even if it’s not actually an attempt, it may be a warm up. I don’t shy away from discussing it for that reason. If I see cutting behaviour, I discuss it (suicide assessment on one level), and let them know I see it. I get them to explore why they do it and what it means to them.

        Unfortunately right now I’m just working at an emergency shelter. I still see arms with deep scars, but I rarely have a chance to give many people time to discuss anything, as there’s no case management in anything but the most casual of senses.

  3. Foss Lee says:

    Studies show (Thomas Joiner, Why people commit suicide) that people who attempt suicide are better off a year later (financially, emotionally, mentally) after the attempt because it triggers all sorts of free services for the ‘victim’. That is, suicide attempts are a form of welfare, welfare.

    It only seems logical that women, who are the primary beneficiaries of welfare, would also use the system to get services they could not afford, or are unwilling to pay for. And while it might seem cynical to say as much, the fact remains a certain percentage of those who attempt suicide aren’t sincere in their desire to die (evidenced by the lack of success) and are “attempting” self-harm to better themselves.

    The only way to be sure would be to remove the services available to those who attempt the act and see if the trend continues.

    • eyeofwoden says:

      Unfortunately, sometimes that’s what it takes. When I was working in the homeless sector and the HIV housing sector, I often had a train of thought that was rather depressing. I’d see people in the shelter system and think “man, I could help this person… if only they had HIV”. Sometimes people who attempt suicide weren’t even aware of services, and some of them may not even require a suicide attempt, but its not until they do something drastic that people take notice and start throwing supports at them. For those who complete their suicides, its too late.

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