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Men Doing More Family Caregiving Could Lower Their Risk of Suicide

Aug 22, 2023 | Family Issues, Mental Health, Suicide

Professor of Psychology at Colorado State University, Silvia Sara Canetto, has dedicated significant years to studying the patterns and significance of suicide across different cultures. Her research aims to understand the variations in suicide mortality rates between men and women worldwide. While suicide rates generally tend to be higher among men, this pattern is not universal, indicating the influence of cultural factors.

Challenging Traditional Theories of Male Suicide

Canetto and her colleagues have recently conducted a comprehensive study that sheds light on the factors contributing to men’s vulnerability to suicide. The study challenges the prevailing notion that men’s suicide mortality is primarily linked to the adversities they face in their public lives, such as employment. Instead, Canetto’s theory suggests that men’s engagement in family care work, or lack thereof, plays a crucial role in their suicide risk.

The Role of Family Care Work in Men’s Suicide: Vulnerability

Many theories have emerged to explain male suicide, often attributing it to the stresses and demands of men’s employment and their roles as economic providers. These theories propose that male suicide rates would increase when their employment and economic roles are threatened. Consequently, suicide prevention efforts have traditionally focused on strengthening men’s employment and economic provider roles. However, studies indicate that economic adversities, including unemployment, do not fully explain men’s vulnerability to suicide.

The Protective Role of Men’s Family Caregiving

Canetto and her colleagues conducted a multinational and multidisciplinary study, published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. The study provides evidence of a protective role for men who engage in family caregiving. Family caregiving includes providing personal care or education to children and caring for dependent adults. Their research encompassed 20 countries, including the United States, Austria, Belgium, Canada, and Japan, revealing lower suicide rates in countries where men reported higher levels of family care work.

Economic Circumstances and Suicide Rates: A Cross-Country Analysis

In countries where men reported greater involvement in family care work, higher unemployment rates were not associated with increased suicide rates among men. Conversely, in countries where men reported lower levels of family care work, higher unemployment rates correlated with elevated male suicide rates. Interestingly, unemployment benefits did not effectively reduce male suicide rates.

The Benefits of Men’s Engagement in Family Care Work

The findings from this ecological study suggest that men’s engagement in family care work can protect them against suicide, particularly during challenging economic circumstances. Canetto emphasizes the public health perspective of their research, which explores the social and economic factors influencing suicide patterns across different countries. Men benefit from diversifying their sources of meaning, purpose, social capital, and networks through family care work. Additionally, increased male involvement in family care work alleviates women’s disproportionate caregiving burden and provides children with more resources.

Implications for Suicide Prevention Strategies

The study’s findings advocate for incorporating support for men’s engagement in family care work within programs aimed at reducing male suicide mortality. This approach calls for an expansion beyond the conventional frameworks of employment-focused suicide prevention. It also highlights the need to address suicide as more than just a mental health issue that can be resolved solely through mental health treatments.

Promoting Well-being Through a Balanced Division of Family Labor

Canetto emphasizes that these study findings align with previous research, collectively suggesting that promoting well-being, health, and longevity for both men and women requires a balanced division of family labor. Emphasizing both family care work and family economic responsibilities creates an environment conducive to overall positive outcomes.

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