Women and suicidal behavior: a cultural analysis

Am J Orthopsychiatry. 2008 Apr;78(2):259-66. doi: 10.1037/a0013973.


Around the world girls and women have higher rates of suicidal ideation and behavior but lower rates of suicide than boys and men. There is, however, significant variability in gender patterns and meanings suicidal behavior within and across cultures. For example, in the United States, suicide is most common among older "White" men, and is typically considered masculine behavior. Women who kill themselves are viewed as acting like men, and therefore deviant. By contrast, in other societies, including China, suicide is viewed as an act of the powerless, and is most frequent in young women. In these societies, men who kill themselves are considered weak and effeminate. The cultural diversity in gender patterns and interpretations of suicidal behavior challenges essentialist perspectives on gender and suicidal behavior. It also challenges the assumption, common in industrialized countries, that women are protected from suicide as long as they stay "feminine" and subsumed within the family. This cultural diversity also points to the pitfalls of theorizing about clinical phenomena as if they were culture-free, and calls for culturally grounded theory, research, and practice.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • China / ethnology
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Culture*
  • Ethnic Groups / psychology
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Men / psychology
  • Papua New Guinea / ethnology
  • Politics
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Suicide / ethnology
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data
  • Suicide, Attempted / ethnology
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data
  • United States / ethnology
  • Women / psychology*