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Clues reveal why men and women may choose different suicide methods

August 30, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog

A study looking at differences in suicide methods between men and women found that while women are less likely to shoot themselves in the head than men, there may be specific reasons why they choose to die that way.

Researchers from the University of Akron and Ohio State University examined 621 suicides that occurred from 1997 to 2006 in Summit County, Ohio. In addition to looking at methods of suicide and what led up to them they also divided the data by gender to see if men's and women's means to suicide were different.

Men were almost twice as likely as women to use a method that disfigured their face or head. Several theories have been given for this phenomenon: that women are more concerned with their physical appearance, even in death; that women aren't as familiar with guns as men are; and that women don't want to upset their loved ones who might find their disfigured bodies.

But in exploring the data, the researchers discovered two things that were linked with the likelihood of women shooting themselves in the face or head: having prior suicide attempts and experiencing stressful events leading up to the suicide.

"The findings suggest that women who have earlier unsuccessful suicide attempts may later try again using more lethal methods," the authors wrote. "This counteracts gendered assumptions that attempts by women are merely cries for help."

By examining differences in suicide methods between men and women, they added, better prevention strategies can be developed.

The study was published online recently in the journal Sex Roles.

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