Suicide is a complex behaviour that is widely regarded as a significant public health issue across the globe. It is influenced by psychiatric, psychological, biological, social, cultural, economic and existential factors. In most countries, the rate of male suicides is between 3 and 7.5 times higher than that of females even though suicide ideation (thoughts) and attempts are more frequent for females.
Even though these men lived in social settings that valued mutual support and reciprocal obligations, some of them suffered abandonment during their economic difficulties. Even those who could depend on spouses in their situation appeared to find that dependency emasculating.
Biologically, it is suggested that testosterone, which is linked to impulsivity and aggression, is about ten times higher in males than in females. Thus the likelihood for males to engage in risky behaviours including aggression towards themselves is linked to high testosterone levels.
The high male suicide rate is also connected to gender stereotypes and role socialisation. Society expects certain things of men. The patriarchal nature of most societies in Africa makes being economically independent a key social expectation of being a man. Men are expected to be employed, with a regular income, and to start a family.
I undertook a study that focused on the way the loss of job and income influenced relationships with close family members prior to suicide. This is not to suggest that loss of income or job is the only cause of men’s suicide in Ghana.
My study used a qualitative research approach, interviewing 21 close relatives and friends of nine men who had all suffered some economic challenges in ways that affected their relationships with family members. All nine had died by suicide.
The study found that the deceased men had perceived being a burden, loss of respect, social abandonment and anxiety when faced with crises like job losses and financial difficulties.
The finding aligns with an earlier study in Ghana that shows that the motivation for male suicides is not that men seek to reject their social responsibilities.
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Instead, it is an intense sense of personal responsibility towards meeting prescribed social norms and roles associated with gender.
My study also found that even though it was possible for some of the men to depend on their wealthier wives during economic difficulty, doing so created distress. Depending on their wives and seeing them assume hitherto “male” roles were seen as emasculating.
- The author, Johnny Andoh-Arthur, is a Senior Lecturer, Psychology, University of Ghana