theguardian: by Jessica Valenti —
If sexism impacts mental health, it makes sense that it would also impact suicide risk for young women, no matter where they live
How do you explain that the leading cause of death of women aged 15 to 19, worldwide, is suicide? An internationally recognized expert on global mental health and suicide said in an interview with the Telegraph: “The most probable reason is gender discrimination.”
In other words, misogyny kills.
There are plenty of shocking statistics in a recently rediscovered 2014 study on suicide from the World Health Organization. The report found that suicides are responsible for half of all violent deaths in men and 71% of violent deaths in women. It also showed that globally, suicide is the second leading cause of death for all young people between the ages of 15 and 29 years old. Yet, somehow, it took us until now to notice just how badly it affects young women.
It was Dr Suzanne Petroni, the senior director for gender, population and development at the International Center for Research on Women, who first realized the chilling statistic as she was going through a WHO special report on adolescents. In a section on how maternal mortality has dropped, there was almost a throwaway line: “[M]aternal mortality ranks second among causes of death of 15–19-year old girls globally, exceeded only by suicide.”
Petroni called a friend at the WHO to make sure the stat was correct and then dug a little deeper: she found that not only had suicide taken over maternal mortality as the top cause of death for adolescent girls, but she told me: “it was clear that from at least 2000 it was a leading cause of death in this age group”.
“We need more research and evidence to tell us if it is actually happening for the reason we hypothesize it is – which is that gender norms and inequality have a significant link for suicide vulnerability”, Petroni said.
Petroni notes that adolescence is when gender roles and discrimination start to intensify globally. “There’s increased violence, child marriage, sexual abuse, exploitation, limitations on reproductive control and girls excluded from education”, she. In El Salvador, for example – where abortion is completely illegal – teen pregnancy (often the result of being the victim of rape or incest) is considered one of the leading causes of suicide.
Petroni and Patel’s conclusion also lines up with a study published earlier this year on the role of sexism in American women’s mental health issues. Researchers from the University of Missouri-Kansas and Georgia State University found that there was a link between women’s “psychological distress” and issues like sexual harassment, objectification and sexual violence.And when you consider what the WorldHealth Organization identifies as risks for suicide – discrimination, abuse, violence and conflictual relationships – it’s clear that these are risks disproportionately faced by younger women. Latanya Mapp Frett, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Global, told me that “around the world, girls are too often undervalued or neglected by their government officials, communities, and even their own families”.
If sexism impacts mental health, it makes sense that it would also impact suicide risk for young women, no matter where they live. Girls aren’t treated poorly just in one country; they’re treated poorly nearly in all of them.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is a leading cause of death for young American women, ages 15-24, second only to accidents. And we’ve read about more than one young woman in the United States and Canada who took her own life or attempted to do so after being sexually assaulted and then victim-blamed by their peers.
“Gender based violence can also contribute to depression and suicidal behavior”, Petroni said. “And sexual violence can happen anywhere.”
Sexism is different and more extreme in some places than others. But few, if any, countries are completely free of violent misogyny, and global statistics about the rates at which young women commit suicide tell a chilling story.
Frett told me that, to move forward, “we must put girls at the center of development and public policies, recognizing them as subjects of rights.” Petroni also offered some tangible solutions: “We need more data, we need to make sure that national health surveys monitor suicide attempts and that hospital systems improve their data”, she says.
Perhaps what we need most of all is the hardest thing to come by: equality.
• In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 08457 90 90 90. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here.
Origional Post here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/28/worldwide-sexism-increases-suicide-risk-in-young-women