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Mental Illness and Suicide

Mental illnesses affect men and women differently: some disorders are more common in women, while some illnesses display different symptoms. Among women interviewed in 2001-03, 23 percent had experienced an anxiety disorder in the past year compared to fewer than 14 percent of men. Some of the anxiety disorders most common among women include specific phobias, social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. Mood disorders, such as depressive disorders and bipolar disorder, are also more common among women than men (11.6 versus 7.7 percent, respectively).

Although a majority of people who suffer from mental illness do not commit suicide, mental illness is a primary risk factor. Over 90 percent of suicide deaths in the United States are associated with mental illness and/or alcohol and substance abuse.1 The rate of suicide is substantially higher for males than females; however, it is estimated that there are three suicide attempts among females for every one attempt among males.

In 2003, female suicide death rates were highest among non-Hispanic Whites (6.4 deaths per 100,000 women), followed by American Indian/Alaska Natives (4.8 per 100,000). Lower rates were found among Asian/Pacific Islander females (3.8 per 100,000), non-Hispanic Black females (2.4 per 100,000), and Hispanic females (2.1 per 100,000).

1 Goldsmith SK, Pellmar TC, Kleinman AM, Bunney WE, eds. Reducing suicide: a national imperative. Committee on Pathophysiology and Prevention of Adolescent and Adult Suicide, Board on Neuroscience and Behavioral Health, Institute of Medicine; 2002.

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Women's Health USA 2006 is not copyrighted. Readers are free to duplicate and use all or part of the information contained on this page. Suggested Citation: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Women's Health USA 2006. Rockville, Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006.