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Jun 27, 201911:14 AMOpen Mic

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It’s Men’s Health Month: Why men should be aware of their health

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In 1920, the female life expectancy in the United States was one year longer than for men. Half a century later, that gender gap had grown to 7.6 years. Over the next few decades, the difference shrank to 4.8 years. But, over just the past two years, while women’s life expectancy has remained steady, men’s declined, and the gender gap has crept back up to 5 years. Despite numerous advances in medical science, men continue to die at younger ages and in greater numbers than women from nine of the top 10 causes of death.

Within the broader men’s health crisis, there is one area where differences between male and female mortality and morbidity are especially stark — mental health, the most visible manifestation of which is suicide.

Across all ages and ethnicities, American men commit suicide at far higher rates than women. According to the most recent CDC data, between the ages of 15 and 64, roughly 3.5 times more men than women commit suicide. From 65 to 74, male suicides outnumber females by more than 4 to 1. For those over 74, the difference is a startling 9.3 to 1. Overall, suicide is the seventh leading cause of death for males; for females it’s number 14.

One subpopulation that’s profoundly affected by the epidemic of male suicides is the military. Historically, servicemembers were less likely than their civilian counterparts to take their own lives. But since 2001, more active duty service members — including Reserve/Guard — have killed themselves than have died in combat. Those numbers are dwarfed by the number of veterans who complete suicide. According to the Military Times, veterans account for a total of 14 percent of all adult suicides in the U.S., even though only 8 percent of the population has ever served. 

The alarming disparity in suicides is undoubtedly driven by equally alarming disparities in the underlying mental-health conditions that lead to suicide itself, including depression and anxiety, psychosis, and substance abuse. In fact, nowhere is the connection between suicide and an underlying mental health condition more obvious than with substance abuse.

Between 2015 and 2016, male life expectancy decreased by 0.2 years, a rather dramatic decline over such a short period of time. That decline was driven, to a large extent, by an even more dramatic 9 percent increase in the male suicide rate, which, in turn, was related to a parallel increase in substance abuse — in particular, opiate use — among men. Such a change in the suicide rate over the course of a single year could easily be classified as the bellwether of a looming public health catastrophe. Actually, two catastrophes. The second is the dramatic increase in opiate overdose deaths. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, between 2015 and 2016, those deaths increased 20.4 percent among women and 31.5 percent for men — primarily middle-aged men, who would otherwise be expected to be among the most productive members of their communities and our society as a whole.

Medical providers, members of the public health community, community organizations, politicians, and the media have collectively been unable or unwilling to acknowledge the massive scope of the mental health issues that affect men. As a result, tens of thousands of American men and boys are dying and suffering from what many experts believe are preventable or treatable behavioral and mental health issues.


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