Tracey Spicer: Female suicide is an epidemic. But you’d never know it.

In death – as in life – women are unequal to men.

This is the message from the lead agency of the National Coalition for Suicide Prevention.

The world’s first comprehensive discussion paper about female suicide is sobering reading.

* Women have higher rates of suicidal behaviour – ideation, planning and attempts – than men.

* The number of 15- to 24-year-old women hospitalised for self-harm is up more than 50 per cent since 2000.

* There’s a 16-fold increase in the diagnosis of depression among peri-menopausal women: they have a higher suicide rate than women of all other ages.

Yet you wouldn’t know this, looking at the funding for men’s help groups.

As Suicide Prevention Australia puts it, “Even though women are highly represented in non-fatal suicidal behaviour, they are not very visible in suicide prevention programs and research”.

The reason is as old as Hippocrates and the notion of hysteria. Women who try to kill themselves are still seen as “attention-seeking”, to manipulate loved ones.

It’s bad enough that this attitude exists in modern society. What’s worse is its prevalence in the so-called caring professions.

“Some healthcare staff continue to lack understanding and compassion and, in their time-poor, stressful work environments, often deem suicidal behaviour as ‘attention-seeking’,” according to the paper.

This means women are seeking help after slashing their wrists, only to be turned away.

The most significant predictor of future suicide is self-harm: this is no impotent cry for help.

What a world we live in.

It’s one in which women end up in a double bind.

We’re not taken seriously because of our perceived femininity; but we’re making more lethal choices because of changing gender roles.

Women are now using violent methods to take their own lives, instead of the traditional poisoning.

This explains the 10 per cent increase in female deaths from suicide for each year, from 2011 to 2013.

Those most at risk are indigenous women, victims of domestic violence and lesbians. More than 30 per cent of transgender people have tried to kill themselves.

Of course, the biggest risk factor is mental illness, with one in five women experiencing depression, compared with one in eight men.

It begs the question: Where are the women’s sheds?

Male support groups are mushrooming, with the Men’s Team at beyondblue and ManTherapy website.

For women, there’s an expectation that the little ladies will sort it out for themselves.

Don’t get me wrong: we still need programs for men. But women are being ignored.

“We need new investment, greater investment and more targeted programs that will address suicide as a gender issue,” in the words of Suicide Prevention Australia’s Chief Executive, Sue Murray.

One of the greatest “protective factors” is the willingness to ask for help. Too often, we try to be martyrs, struggling through by ourselves.

Like most folks, I have loved ones who suffer from depression. My sister, like our father, goes into her shell when the black dog shadows her. I worry she won’t be able to access support at these times.

The media is partly to blame for this gender disparity. We continue to depict suicide as predominantly a men’s problem: the young bloke who loses the farm; the middle-aged man retrenched from his job.

“In terms of the total burden of morbidity and mortality, suicidal behaviour is more common in women,” the paper asserts.

Put simply, a woman’s death should be considered equal to a man’s.