Suicide -- Differences from Culture to Culture
Suicide is the seventh leading cause of death for men in the U.S. and the sixteenth for women. The word itself is emotionally charged, and as bad as it sounds, people are interested in statistics regarding suicide: where it happens most, to who it happens to the most, what are the risk factors, and what are the demographics of these victims? At the 118th Annual American Psychological Association Convention suicide was discussed in terms of differences in men and women suicidal behaviors based on culture and location.
Women in the U.S. are much more likely to attempt suicide, but are four times less likely to actually die from it than men. In the U.S. and Canada, both industrialized countries, it is considered a masculine act, but in other countries it is considered feminine. "Everywhere suicidal behavior is culturally scripted," Silvia S. Canetto, Ph.D., of Colorado State University, was quoted as saying. "Women and men adopt the self-destructive behaviors that are expected of them within their cultures."
Suicide behaviors are nowhere near universal, while the paradox of women committing suicide more often but dying less frequently than usually is seen more in industrialized countries, the behaviors vary by culture, society, and area of living. For example, in China, women die of suicide at higher rates than men; in Finland and Ireland men and women commit nonfatal suicide at equal rates.
"In these (industrialized) 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)," explain Canetto. Aguaruna people from Peru view suicide as an indication of feminine inability to control strong emotions. Although, in some cultures men and women suicide rates are equal, for example, in Sri Lanka, risk factors such as problems with spouses and depression are usually associated with both men and women committing suicide.
"A broad cultural perspective shows that women and men do not consistently differ in terms of the kinds of suicidal behavior then engage in, or with regard to the circumstances or the motives of their suicidal behavior." Canetto says. "When women and men differ with regard to some dimensions of suicidal behavior, the meaning of 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." Canetto believes that the difference in patterns of suicidal behaviors between men and women calls for "culturally situated suicidality research and prevention."
At the convention Dr. James L. Werth of Radford University discussed the reasoning for suicide rates being higher in rural America than urban. On top of usual suicide risk factors such as, mental illness, substance abuse, and a family history of suicide, rural residents are usually more isolated, less willing to ask for help, or to travel to get help, and they typically have more access to lethal means like guns and poisons. "Country by country, state by state, the top areas in terms of suicide are rural," Dr. Werth said. "The top five states are Alaska, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Nevada, whereas D.C., New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts have the lowest rates."
The higher suicide rates in rural America could be due to increased poverty, higher unemployment, and less access to treatment. Werth suggests that there should be more access to broadband, which would help by increasing access to resources, along with integration of mental health practitioners into primary care. He believes the people of rural America need to rely on each other for support and help, and that strong relationships with families and religion should be built upon.
SOURCE: 118th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, held in San Diego, California August 12 through August 15, 2010.