IASP 31st World Congress keynote: female suicide and self-harm

Posted 21st October 2021 in IASP 31st World Congress

As part of the IASP 31st World Congress, day two’s keynote address focussed on female suicide and self-harm. This session was sponsored by Black Rainbow and included three notable presenters; Dr Silvia Canetto, Ms Shelby Rowe and Dr Lakshmi Vijayakumar.

Dr Silvia Canetto began the keynote presenting on a paradigm shift and its focus on women and suicide in China. Dr Canetto is the Professor of Psychology at Colorado State University.

"I would rather die than live like a pig or a dog" said a Chinese woman about her suicidal behaviour to a researcher in 2014. Dr Canetto’s reference to this quote encompasses much of her discussion, where she contextualises the systemic social and cultural challenges for women in China and why women have the highest rates of suicide in that country. The following key points were elaborated to the understanding of female suicide in China:

  • Female suicide in China is commonly women of reproductive age, young adults and adult women, challenging dominant theories where maternal instincts may be a protective measure towards suicide.
  • Abuse and domestic burdens are vulnerabilities for married women and is the reason why married women in China had suicide rates three times higher than unmarried women. This is not limited to women living in urban environments, but also for those living in rural areas.
  • Religious affiliation and Confucian beliefs are identified risk factors in suicide for women in China.
  • Men reported receiving more family care than women, providing some insight into lower male suicide rates.

Dr Canetto spoke to shifting attention to institutional discrimination particularly for low and middle income countries. Legislative and cultural factors, such as women’s rights and access in education, finance, gender roles, justice systems and housing which pertain to particular communities, challenges the protective factors that may be considered in other countries like the United States of America.

Dr Lakshmi Vijayakumar, a consultant psychiatrist in India, presented on suicide in women in low and middle income countries. She similarly discussed higher suicide rates in women (than men), and also pregnancy not being a protective factor like that of in U.S. based theories. Dr Vijayakumar references the Rohingya refugee crisis, where many women and young girls died by suicide as a result of gender vulnerabilities in violence and trauma.

Dr Vijayakumar spoke about strategies for women, such as improving education, economic security, reducing violence, prohibiting child marriage and increasing suicide prevention in women’s programs, which all point to the role in which institutional discrimination plays in female suicide.

Ms Shelby Rowe, suicide prevention Project Director at the University of Oklahoma, shared a powerful presentation detailing a historical narrative of Indigenous Native Americans and how “it’s not what’s wrong with us, it’s what happened and is still happening to us”.

Ms Rowe presented on Matriarchs and Warrior Women, indigenous women and the healing power of culture and explained that for many years the sector has strived for trauma informed care however when it comes to Indigenous Native Americans, the story of justice has been overlooked. The importance in acknowledging strength and resilience through the historical lens of adversity in suicide prevention for women was highlighted by Ms Rowe.

Allan Woodward wrapped up the session in emphasising that social justice and intervening through the social determinants of wellbeing should be considered at the heart of suicide prevention.

If you or someone you know has been impacted by this information or needs help, please phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back on 1300 659 467. If you are in immediate danger, phone emergency services on 000.