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June 9th, 2007

Common Mistake about Suicide

I was reading a number of people on an NYPD blog make a common mistake about women and suicide. They were saying that women don’t use guns to kill themselves as much and use other methods more. This was an unofficial NYPD blog, I should add, so their comments do not represent the collected knowledge of the NYPD. The only reason I bring this up is because it was in the context of a murder investigation and I thought it was important to try to clear up this common misconception.

The truth is the number one method of suicide among women IS shooting themselves. I believe I know how this mistake got started. It’s a combination of a persistent stereotype about women reinforced by a select representation of statistics that supports this bias.

Whenever you read articles about suicide you always hear “women use poison more than men.” That’s true. They do. But that said, they still use guns more than poison when they kill themselves. I’m going to simplify the numbers in order to explain how I think the confusion arose.

Take a 100 male suicides and 100 female. Say 90 of the men shot themselves and 10 took poison. Among the women, 80 shot themselves and 20 took poison. In this example, you can accurately say that women used poison more than men. But, as you can see, they still used a gun more than anything else.

I researched this a while back, that’s how I know. I also learned that men jump off buildings and other high places more than women. Anyway, the point was being made that this female gunshot victim was more likely a homicide because when women kill themselves they don’t use guns and that’s wrong. It’s the number one method of suicide among women.

UPDATE: Now I’m seeing that women do use poison more than guns to kill themselves! I wonder if I was researching this during a year when women used firearms more, but I have to correct my post. Women still use guns a lot (in the year I’m looking at now 32% used guns and 37% used poison) but they do kill themselves with poison more.

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