IDENTIFYING SUICIDE RISK: LANGUAGE CLUES

Research from UCLA has examined how language associated with suicide differs between men and women, highlighting potential clues that could help identify those at risk and improve public health interventions.

Men have a significantly higher suicide rate compared to women. The UCLA researchers identified specific vocabulary related to events surrounding male suicides that could assist in identifying individuals needing follow-up care.

Their study analysed data from over 270,000 suicides in the U.S. over 17 years, finding distinct differences in the language associated with male and female suicides.

Fewer men who died by suicide had diagnosed mental health conditions or received mental health treatment compared to women.

Language related to mood, psychological state, and mental health treatment was more common in records of female suicides, whereas male suicides were often associated with job loss, alcohol abuse, financial stress, and unusual behaviour.

Men's narratives often mentioned mental health struggles without indicating treatment or made mention of ‘noncompliance’ with treatment. Male narratives also more often included a topic reflecting emergency or police-based interventions.

Specific terms related to mental health issues were identified more frequently in narratives of male suicides than female suicides. These included:

  • chronic mental health conditions
  • undiagnosed
  • strange behaviour
  • agitation
  • making mistakes
  • seeming like
  • cognitive difficulties
  • signals of mental and physical health issues
  • self-injury
  • cognitive indecision

The findings suggest the potential for using language patterns to train healthcare workers, suicide hotline workers, and first responders to recognise and intervene. The research also suggests that public health strategies could benefit from understanding and using these indicators in health messaging and workplace wellness programs. 

'We think that by identifying gendered language around suicide we can get more help for men who need it. For example, interventions could be directed at a man who is distraught about losing a job, since that was one of the key indicators pointing toward suicide for men.'

Access the research here

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