Podcast: Critical Suicide Theory and Research – From the Gender Paradox to Cultural Scripts

Silvia Canetto, a professor in the Department of Psychology, is most well-known for her research on the gender paradox of suicide, a term she coined, with Isaac Sakinofsky, to refer to the fact that girls and women are more likely to report suicidal thoughts and to engage in suicidal behavior, and yet they are less likely to die of suicide than boys and men.

Professor Canetto is also the author of the theory of cultural scripts of gender and suicidal behavior–a theory that builds on the insights she gained from researching the gender paradox of suicide.

Canetto was featured in an interview podcast with Sally Spencer-Thomas discussing her research:

Critical Suicide Theory and Research — From the Gender Paradox to Cultural Scripts of Suicidal Behaviors: Interview with Professor Silvia Sara Canetto

In this interview, Canetto discusses what U.S. suicidology was like when she entered the field as an international student at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. She reviews her contributions to the field—from challenging its stigmatizing (terms like “committed” suicide ) and gender-biased language (e.g., terms like “successful” suicide, to refer to what, in the U.S., is a more common male-outcome of suicidal behavior) to challenging dominant gender-biased theories of suicidal behaviors (e.g., that women’s suicidal behavior is an emotional and impulsive reaction to trivial relationship problems, and that men’s suicidal behavior is a desperate but deliberate response to serious social and economic adversities).

Canetto then describes her theory and research on suicide scripts. A key point of her theory is that there are different situations, by culture, when suicidal behavior is relatively permissible and even expected, from certain people, using certain methods, and with specific social consequences. Another important point of her theory is that the different cultural scripts contribute to the cultural variability in suicidality rates. This is because suicidal individuals are influenced by these scripts in choosing their course of action and in giving their suicidal act public meaning.  At the end of the interview Professor Canetto reviews examples of research supporting her theory. She also addresses the implications of the theory and evidence on cultural scripts of suicidal behavior–including that there are no universal risk and protective factors, and that therefore prevention should be grounded on local scripts of suicidal behavior.