Female suicides: A deadly fabrication?

We’ve all heard the statistic: There are three female suicide attempts to every male suicide attempt. This statistic can be seen on SAVE[1], AAS[2], AFSP[3], and many other suicide prevention organizations. In fact, this has been so engrained into the heads of the public that few people even question this statistic. I did question this statistic because of the high rate of fatal suicide cases (around 80% of fatal suicide cases are males[4]), and the results I found were quite shocking.

During my research for this article, I quickly ran into big red flags. I came across the SAVE organization, and I found this listed under their “Suicide Facts” section: “There are three female suicide attempts for each male attempt. (CDC, AAS)”[1] Then I went to the AAS to check their source and on their “2012 Data – Rates, numbers, and rankings of each state” I find this: “3 female attempts for each male attempt.”[2] There was no clear source but at the bottom of the page I found two citations:

1) “Many figures appearing here are derived or calculated from data in the following official data source: obtained 16 October 2014 from CDC’s WISQARS website (fatal injuries report figures) http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html.”

2) “SAMHSA 2012 study (2013): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA] (2013). Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings, NSDUH Series H-47, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4805. Rockville, MD: SAMHSA.”

Checking the CDC was on my to-do list, but first I wanted to check out this SAMHSA study.[5] I found this: “In 2012, male and female adults had similar rates of having serious thoughts of suicide in the past year (3.6 and 4.1 percent, respectively).”[5] Well, this certainly didn’t help the case that there would be three female suicide attempts to every male suicide attempt, but it didn’t disprove the statistic either, so I kept looking. I looked and looked and I could find no information to support this statistic that there are three female suicide attempts to every male suicide attempt.

This left me with the CDC, especially the WISQARS tool, but in order to use this tool I had to figure out how to calculate what a suicide attempt was. I kept running into the message that suicide attempt statistics are not officially collected in the USA, which made me question this three to one statistic even more, but the AFSP had this to say about suicide attempts on their “Facts and Figures” page: “No complete count is kept of suicide attempts in the U.S.; however, the CDC gathers data each year from hospitals on non-fatal injuries resulting from self-harm behavior.”[3]

SUCCESS! Surely, all I had to do now was go to the CDC WISQARS tool, calculate the amount of self-harm cases in 2012 for both males and females, and add those numbers to the official fatal suicide data. That’s what I did, and here are the numbers I came up with:

2012 Self-harm Cases:
Total: 483,596
Male: 197,229
Female: 286,367

2012 Official Fatal Suicide Data:
Total: 40,600
Male: 31,780
Female: 8,820

2012 Self-harm Cases + Fatal Suicides:
Total: 524,196
Male: 229,009 (43.7%)
Female: 295,187 (56.3%)

That was unexpected. A suicide attempt ratio of 56.3% female to 43.7% male is nothing close to the expected three female suicide attempts to every male suicide attempt.

I looked around the CDC website for more information. They have a lot of different information on the suicides and suicide attempts, but I found no evidence to support this three to one statistic. I even called the CDC to ask them if there was evidence for this statistic anywhere. The lady put me on hold multiple times to personally search the CDC website, and she could not find supporting evidence.

Throughout this process I sent emails to numerous different suicide prevention organizations that had this three to one statistic listed, and to date, none of them have contacted me back. I contacted the CDC by email to get a response from an expert in the field about this statistic. I’m still waiting on a response.

Given all of the research I found surrounding this statistic, I’m forced to abandon the statistic that three females attempt suicide to every male. There is no official data on suicide attempts to take this statistic as a hard fact. When adding the self-harm and fatal suicide cases together, the statistics from CDC WISQARS aren’t close to a three to one ratio. When looking at the surrounding data such as from the SAMHSA study, which looked into those who had suicidal thoughts in the previous year, males and females were found to have “similar” rates of suicidal thoughts. It can also be seen how a lot of these organizations are just pointing to each other, but most data is actually coming from very few places such as the CDC, so one mistake would quickly spread to all of these different suicide prevention organizations. All-in-all, I’ve abandoned the statistic that there are three female suicide attempts to every male suicide attempt, and you should, too.

[1] http://www.save.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewPage&page_id=705D5DF4-055B-F1EC-3F66462866FCB4E6
[2] http://www.suicidology.org/Portals/14/docs/Resources/FactSheets/2012datapgsv1d.pdf
[3] https://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/facts-and-figures
[4] http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/Suicide-DataSheet-a.pdf
[5] http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/2k12MH_Findings/2k12MH_Findings/NSDUHmhfr2012.pdf

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