Women who commit suicide are more likely than men to avoid facial disfiguration, but not necessarily in the name of vanity. Valerie Callanan from the University of Akron and Mark Davis from the Criminal Justice Research Center at the Ohio State University, USA, show that there are marked gender differences in the use of suicide methods that disfigure the face or head. While firearms are the preferred method for both men and women, women are less likely to shoot themselves in the head. The study is published online in Springer's journal Sex Roles.
Although a number of studies have looked at gender differences in suicide risk, few have examined gender differences in suicide methods. Understanding gender differences in suicide methods has important implications for suicide prevention efforts.
Callanan and Davis examined the medical examiner's files of 621 suicide cases in Summit County, Ohio in the US, covering a 10-year period (1997-2006). They found that women were significantly less likely than men to use suicide methods with the potential to disfigure the face or head. Indeed, men were nearly twice as likely as women to have used such methods.
The researchers also found that for every one-unit increase in blood alcohol level, the odds of using a disfiguring method increased by nearly 10 percent. Gender, age, stressful life events and prior suicide attempts all predicted the use of methods that disfigure the face and head.
The authors conclude: "To suggest that women are less likely to shoot themselves in the face or head because they are more concerned about their appearance than men is to minimize the significance of the act of suicide. What we do know is that those experiencing stressful life events are at far greater risk of employing an especially lethal method of suicide than those not experiencing such events."
Callanan VJ & Davis MS (2011). Gender and suicide method: do women avoid facial disfiguration? Sex Roles DOI 10.1007/s11199-011-0043-0
The full-text article is available to journalists on request.