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New Research Provides Evidence Toxic Masculinity Leads to a Higher Risk of Suicide

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

New evidence suggests that toxic masculinity — traditional male attitudes that discourage expressing “soft” emotions — may be associated with a greater risk of suicide. Taken together with other evidence, it’s a good indication that toxic masculinity could kill you.

In a research letter published Feb. 12 in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers used existing data to determine if there was an association between toxic masculinity and suicide risk. The researchers determined which participants exhibited high traditional masculinity based on 16 total variables, including not crying, avoidant of emotions or showing moods, fighting and risk-taking.

Males identified as having traits of toxic masculinity were 2.4 times more likely to die by suicide compared to men who did not exhibit such strong traditional views of masculinity. The researchers also determined that toxic masculinity was associated with higher rates of other behaviors correlated with suicide risk. For example, males with high traditional masculinity were more likely to use a weapon or start a fight.

“One was that high traditional masculinity was associated with a host of other significant risk factors for suicide death,” study author Daniel Coleman, Ph.D., told Medscape Medical News. “So not only does high traditional masculinity add to the risk of suicide death, it also may have indirect effects through other variables, such as acting-out behavior.”

It’s important to keep in mind the data analysis used for this study included a comparatively small number of suicides. Researchers matched death records (where applicable) with all 20,745 participants of all genders in the data set. Of these, the researchers identified 22 suicides, 21 of whom were male. This small sample population is too small to draw major conclusions.

The study also discovered some contradictory findings. While males who exhibited traits of high traditional masculinity had a higher risk of dying by suicide, they were 1.45 times less likely to report self-injury. In addition, the researchers did not identify an association between suicide attempts and toxic masculinity. The connection between toxic masculinity and suicide risk requires additional research.

However, the research letter does shed light on the fact that we need to continue having conversations about mental health among males. The suicide rate is 3.5 times higher for males in the United States, and nearly 70% of those who die by suicide are white males. The reasons for this increased suicide risk are complex. But the new research emphasizes the need to break down the toxic masculinity myths that prevent males from discussing their mental health.

“While this result isn’t surprising, it’s an encouraging development to see such a concrete link between toxic masculinity and the risk of death by suicide,” Matt Sloan, The Mighty’s contributor editor and mental health advocate told The Mighty. He continued:

Men are typically expected to ‘man up’ and hide their feelings from their male friends, and even sometimes their female friends, lest they be seen as weak and even ‘feminine’ or ‘gay.’ We even raise boys to believe crying is a sign of weakness rather than the cathartic expression of sadness that it is. If the statistics are to change, then the general public needs to be educated on the serious ramifications of ‘high traditional masculinity.’ They need to know the important role an honest, emotional upbringing has on those who identify as male.

Header image via Lucreative/Unsplash

Originally published: February 26, 2020
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