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Science

Culture matters in suicidal behavior patterns and prevention

August 13, 2010

Women and girls in the United States consider and engage in suicidal behavior more often than men and boys, but die of suicide at lower rate -- a gender paradox enabled by U.S. cultural norms of gender and suicidal behavior, according to a Colorado State University psychologist who spoke Thursday at the 118th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

Culturally scripted

Silvia S. Canetto, professor of counseling psychology and applied social psychology, spoke at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association on Aug. 12.

“Everywhere, suicidal behavior is culturally scripted,” said Silvia S. Canetto, professor of counseling psychology and applied social psychology at Colorado State. “Women and men adopt the self-destructive behaviors that are expected of them within their cultures.”

While the gender paradox of suicidal behavior is common, particularly in industrialized countries, it is not universal, she said. In China, for example, women die of suicide at higher rates than men.

In Finland and Ireland, men and women engage in nonfatal suicidal behavior at similar rates. There are more exceptions to the gender paradox of suicidal behavior when one examines female/male patterns of suicidality by age or culture, she said.

Masculine act in U.S.

In some cultures, particularly in industrialized countries, such as the United States and Canada, suicide is considered a masculine act and an “unnatural” behavior for women, Canetto said at a symposium titled “New Perspectives on Suicide Theory, Research and Prevention.”

“In these countries, the dominant view is that ‘successful, completed’ suicide is the masculine way to do suicide. In the U.S., women who kill themselves are considered more deviant than men. By contrast, in other cultures, killing oneself is considered feminine behavior (and is more common in women),” she said, citing, among others, the Aguaruna people of Peru, who view suicide as an indication of a feminine inability to control strong emotions.

Yet in other cultures, men’s and women’s suicidal behavior is similar. For example, in Sri Lanka, the same types of issues (problems with spouses, parents or in-laws) are typically associated with both women’s and men’s suicides.


Contact: Emily Wilmsen
E-mail: Emily.Wilmsen@colostate.edu
Phone: (970) 491-2336