Culture a Big Influence on Suicidal Behavior: Expert

FRIDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) — Culture influences suicidal behavior patterns for men and women and could play a role in prevention, an expert on the topic says.

To illustrate the point, psychologist Silvia S. Canetto of Colorado State University explained that females in the United States consider and attempt suicide more often than men, but have a lower rate of death from suicide. This is a “gender paradox” influenced by American cultural norms, she believes.

“Everywhere, suicidal behavior is culturally scripted. Women and men adopt the self-destructive behaviors that are expected of them within their cultures,” Canetto said in a news release from the American Psychological Association.

For example, in industrialized countries suicide tends to be regarded as a masculine act and an “unnatural” behavior for women, said Canetto, who is slated to discuss the issue on Thursday at the APA’s annual meeting, in San Diego.

“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 in an APA news release.

As an example of the latter, Canetto cited the Aguaruna people of Peru, who consider suicide an indication of a feminine inability to control strong emotions.

“A broad cultural perspective shows that women and men do not consistently differ in terms of the kinds of suicidal behavior they engage in, or with regard to the circumstances or the motives of their suicidal behavior,” she said.

“When women and men differ with regard to some dimensions of suicidal behavior, the meaning and salience of these differences vary from one social group to another, one culture to another, one historical period to another, depending on local scripts of gender and suicidal behavior.”

This means that suicide research and prevention requires a culturally specific focus, Canetto concluded.

More information

The Center for Mental Health Services outlines suicide warning signs.