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Male shame linked to murder-suicide

By Stefania Seccia



A new University of B.C. study has linked an overarching theme in murder-suicides predominantly committed by males across North America with harmful self-perceptions of masculinity.

John Oliffe, a nursing researcher, recently published a study focused on murder-suicides and how the cases are linked to traditional masculine ideals.

The study reviewed 45 cases where a person murdered a family member or multiple people before ending their own life.

According to research data, males account for 93.4% of murder-suicide perpetrators in the U.S., which is higher than the male perpetrator homicide rates of 88%.

In Oliffe’s own work looking into men’s depression and suicide, he began to note the proliferation of men in these murder-suicide incidents.

“I became interested in why that would be the case and what might be the things that underpin these amazingly destructive behaviours,” he said. “The stories are so horrendous.”

Two of the 45 cases transpired in B.C., including the 2012 incident in Saanich where an elderly man killed his wife and then himself. He left a note stating he could not allow his wife to be left dealing with serious financial problems — and had early symptoms of dementia and suffered from depression.

“There were some things that were definitely prevailing across told in some detail,” Oliffe said. “One of the things is mental illness, and whether that was implicit to the story or an explicit history of mental illness.”

Oliffe said the men typically had trouble dealing with an underlying mental illness and some form of shaming: domestic desperation, workplace justice, or school retaliation.

“I think shame is a really good word to what’s happening to a lot of these guys,” he said. “The shame of losing a job, shame they can’t provide for their family, shamed because they stutter and people are bullying them at work, the shame they can’t keep up academically.”

The study suggests “our collective obligation to lobby for changes that disrupt representations of hegemonic masculinity, both in terms of structure and agency.”

Oliffe said it goes beyond “stopping guns” — although gun control deserves more review — but how male mental illness is treated.

The study calls for new prevention strategies “to quell the catastrophic impacts of this long-standing but understudied men’s health issue.”