Despite being less likely to experience suicidal ideation or depression, men are more likely to die by suicide than women, an Indian-origin researcher has found.
Although men tend to choose more lethal methods than women, it was found that even when men and women try to kill themselves using the same method, men are still more likely to die.
According to the study, possessing suicidal desire (due to conditions such as depression) alone is not sufficient for a lethal suicide attempt. It is imperative for an individual to have the acquired capability for suicide (ACS) along with suicidal desire in order to die by suicide.
Researchers led by Gopikrishna Deshpande, Professor at Auburn University, at Alabama in the US, has defined this ACS in four traits — fearlessness of death, pain tolerance, emotional stoicism and sensation seeking.
People experiencing a desire to commit suicide will not do so without first losing their fear of dying and developing the necessary pain tolerance to endure making a lethal attempt.
There is also a level of emotional stoicism that is needed to go through with a lethal act.
Finally, some individuals, as a means of release, will actively pursue the sensations of pain that are related to suicidal action.
The higher levels of ACS in men may explain why men are more likely to die by suicide than women, Deshpande explained.
In the study, the team used a meta-analysis to investigate a potential ACS network that involves all the four traits along with a potential depression network that involves neural substrates that underlie clinical depression.
Brain regions commonly found in ACS and depression networks for males and females were further used as seeds to obtain regions functionally and structurally connected to them.
The results showed that the male-specific networks were more widespread and diverse than the female-specific ones.
In men, the networks involved motor regions which are more associated with action, while the networks in women were dominated by brain regions which determine the emotional state of a person.
This may support the fact that suicidal desire generally leads to fatal/decisive action in males, while in females it manifests as depression, ideation, and generally non-fatal actions, Deshpande said.
The study is a first attempt to characterise the neural networks underlying gender differences in suicidal behaviour.
If the specific brain networks that have been highlighted in the study are confirmed as being involved in suicidal action, then perhaps, “in the distant future, techniques such as deep brain stimulation, transcranial magnetic and electrical stimulation and focused ultrasound could be used to make individuals less suicidal”, Deshpande suggested.
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.