Structuring Roles and Gender Identities: Within Families Explaining Suicidal Behavior in South India

Lasrado, R.A. et al., (2016) Crisis.  DOI: 10.1027/0227-5910/a000379.

Abstract. Background: This paper examines the social structures, culture, gendered roles, and their implications for suicidal behavior in South India. Exploring the cultural process within the structures of family and society to understand suicide and attempted suicide from the perspectives of survivors, mental health professionals, and traditional healers has not been achieved in the existing suicide-related research studies conducted in India to date. Aims: This study aimed to explore the cultural implications of attempted suicide by examining the survivors’ life stories, their perceptions, and service providers’ interpretations of problem situation. Method: A qualitative design was used drawing on constant comparison method and thematic analysis. The analysis was underpinned by the theoretical concepts of Bourdieu’s work. In-depth interviews were conducted with 15 survivors of attempted suicide, eight mental health professionals, and eight traditional healers from Southern India. Results: The study found interactions among visible and invisible fields such as faith, power, control, culture, family, religion, and social systems to have strengthened the disparities in gender and role structures within families and societies and to have impacted survivors’ dispositions to situations. Conclusion: The role of culture in causing suicide and attempted suicide is explained by unraveling the negative impact of interacting cultural and structural mechanisms.


Suicide and Agency: Anthropological Perspectives on Self-Destruction, Personhood, and Power

Broz, Ludek & Munster, Daniel, 2015, Suicide and Agency: Anthropological Perspectives on Suicide, Personhood and Power, Routledge

Suicide and Agency offers an original and timely challenge to existing ways of understanding suicide. Through the use of rich and detailed case studies, the authors assembled in this volume explore how interplay of self-harm, suicide, personhood and agency varies markedly across site (Greenland, Siberia, India, Palestine and Mexico) and setting (self-run leprosy colony, suicide bomb attack, cash-crop farming, middle-class mothering). Rather than starting from a set definition of suicide, they empirically engage suicide fields-the wider domains of practices and of sense making, out of which realized, imaginary, or disputed suicides emerge. By drawing on ethnographic methods and approaches, a new comparative angle to understanding suicide beyond mainstream Western bio-medical and classical sociological conceptions of the act as an individual or social pathology is opened up. The book explores a number of ontological assumptions about the role of free will, power, good and evil, personhood, and intentionality in both popular and expert explanations of suicide. Suicide and Agency offers a substantial and ground-breaking contribution to the emerging field of the anthropology of suicide. It will appeal to a range of scholars and students, including those in anthropology, sociology, social psychology, cultural studies, suicidology, and social studies of death and dying.

Table of Contents

Part I

Introduction: The anthropology of suicide: ethnography and the tension of agency, Daniel Münster and Ludek Broz.

Part II

Suicide, Personhood and Relationality: Personhood, agency and suicide in a neo-liberalizing South India, James Staples

The lonely un-dead and returning suicide in northwest Greenland, Janne Flora

Between demons and disease: suicide and agency in Yucatan, Mexico, Beatriz M. Reyes-Foster

Four funerals and a wedding: suicide, sacrifice, and (non-)human agency in a Siberian village, Ludek Broz

Part III

Self-Destruction and Power: Bodies, Resistance and Crises: Farmers’ suicide and the moral economy of agriculture: victimhood, voice, and agro-environmental responsibility in South India, Daniel Münster

Dying to live in Palestine: steadfastness, pollution and embodied space,Deen Sharp and Natalia Linos

Accumulating death: women’s moral agency and domestic economies of care in South India, Jocelyn Chua

Learning suicide and the limits of agency: children’s ‘suicide play’ in Sri Lanka, Tom Widger

Suicide, agency and the limits of power, Katrina Jaworski

Part IV

Afterword: Afterword: taking relationality to extremes, Marilyn Strathern


“This volume is an excellent and much-needed addition to the literature on suicide. Notions of personhood, agency and suicide are interrogated throughout in rigorous and illuminating ways, and the book clearly demonstrates the valuable contribution anthropology can make to the study of suicide.”— Ian Marsh, Canterbury Christ Church University, UK

“We frequently imagine suicide as both an extreme expression of control and an act of the out-of-control. The pieces gathered in this important and timely volume make a virtue of that tension, describing the complex realities in which self-inflicted death and knowledge about such death take shape. They show how suicide is not only about exceptional deaths, but about routine ways of life.”— Kenneth MacLeish, Vanderbilt University, USA

“In the best anthropological tradition, this book heads to what many would consider the margins of social life (in this case suicide), and uses what it learns there to illuminate absolutely central issues of social theory (in this case notions of agency). Those who study suicide, death and dying cannot miss this book, but anyone interested in fresh social theoretical thinking should also want to read it.”— Joel Robbins, University of Cambridge, UK


The influence of the Foehn wind (Halny) on the occurrence of suicide in the Tatra Mountains, 1999–2014

Koszewska, I., et al. 2016. The influence of the Foehn wind (Halny) on the occurrence of suicide in the Tatra Mountains, 1999–2014.European Psychiatry 33: S597
In the dawn of increasing interest in climate changes, including extreme weather events, e.g. the Foehn winds, and their influence on public health, it is of great importance to understand their role in suicide.The association between suicides in the Tatra Mountains, Poland from 1999 to 2014 and the Foehn wind (called Halny in this region) was examined. The belief that suicides are affected by Halny seems to be firmly rooted in local language and culture.The purpose of the study was to assess the Halny wind as a suicide risk factor.Data concerning all suicides in the region were included. Meteorological data were derived every three hours during the period of the study. Halny was defined as a complex of interacting meteorological conditions. The two days preceding and following the wind were recognized as the period of the Foehn influence (FI). The probability of suicide in the presence of Halny and during the FI period was calculated.From 1st January 1999 to 31 December 2014 (5844 days), 210 consecutive suicides were registered. The number of suicides in men was markedly higher than in women. Halny did not change the overall probability of suicide. However, the presence of Halny modified the suicide risk according to the season (P=0.00095, two-way ANOVA test). The FI periods appeared to increase suicide risk in summer and autumn.Halny may contribute to the increased suicide risk in summer and autumn. It should be taken into account in suicide preventive interventions in this region.

Life Experience following Suicide Attempt among Middle-aged Men

J Korean Acad Nurs. 2016 Apr;46(2):215-225. Korean.
Published online April 29, 2016.

PurposeThis study was performed to identify the meaning of life experience following suicide attempt among middle-aged men.

MethodsA qualitative research design was adopted using van Manen’s hermeneutic phenomenological approach. The participants were six middle-aged men who had attempted suicide at least one time. Data were collected in 2013 through in-depth interviews. Individual interviews were recorded; and literary, art works and phenomenological literature were searched to identify the meaning of the experience.

ResultsThe five essential themes of the life experience of middle-aged men who attempted suicide were ‘Bitter reality confronted again’, ‘Anger buried deep inside’, ‘Broken family, inescapable fetters’, ‘Blocked relationships, closed world’ and ‘A step towards a new life’.

ConclusionThe meaning of lived experience found in this study provides deep insight into the experience following suicide attempt in middle-aged men and crucial information to give directions to appropriate support and nursing interventions.

Durkheim, ethnography and suicide: Researching young male suicide in the transnational London Alevi-Kurdish community

Cetin, U. (2015). Durkheim, ethnography and suicide: Researching young male suicide in the transnational London Alevi-Kurdish community. Ethnography. doi:10.1177/1466138115586583

This study of the unusually high incidence of young male suicides in the transnational Alevi-Kurdish community in London demonstrates the benefits of combining a Durkheimian structural approach with a qualitatively driven ethnographic methodology. Examination of the life experiences of those who committed suicide is located within the underlying social organization of the transnational community in which the suicides occurred, enabling us to explore unanticipated events that render certain groups more at risk of committing suicide. Interviews with significant others facilitated a deeper understanding of the personal life paths of those who committed suicide. The suicide cases followed a particular assimilation trajectory that gradually positioned them in a ‘rainbow underclass’, an anomic social position leading to suicide. Despite the sensitivity of the subject, participants appreciated the opportunity to discuss their experience frankly and contribute towards a better understanding of the underlying causes in a desperate attempt to prevent further suicides.

FINAL REPORT: Suicide in Sri Lanka: Past, Present and Future Transformations, University of Colombo, 21-22 March 2013


Suicide in Sri Lanka: Past, Present and Future Transformations, University of Colombo, 21-22 March 2013


Since the middle of the 20th century, rates of suicide and self-harm rose to ‘epidemic’ proportions in Sri Lanka. From the mid-1990s a series of restrictions placed on the import and sale of the most toxic agrochemicals led to a substantial decreased in the suicide rate. However, emerging evidence – much of it presented at this symposium – suggests that the rate of self-harm has increased exponentially since then. The objective of this symposium was to engage academic researchers and policy makers and intervention practitioners in a dialog concerning the socio-cultural causes and meanings of self-harm and suicide in Sri Lanka, and the implications of this for the development and delivery of effective interventions.


The symposium was organised by Dr Tom Widger (University of Sussex) and Ms Tharindi Udalagama (University of Colombo). In February 2013 a Call for Papers (CfP) was announced via academic and policy/practice channels. The CfP attracted twelve abstracts from local and international researchers and interventionists. The resulting programme spread across two days and included five sessions, including a final roundtable debate seeking to integrate the results of discussions from the previous sessions:

Opening session:         Welcome & Plenary Address

Session 1:                    Reading Sri Lanka’s suicide rate

Session 2:                    Self-harm and suicide in ethnographic contexts

Session 3:                    Interventions: transforming suicidalities in Sri Lanka

Session 4:                    Roundtable debate

Formal invitations were sent to a list of academic and policy/practice stakeholders, including representatives of the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Services, and local and international NGOs. A few days before the symposium feature stories were published in the Sri Lankan press, which elicited requests for further information and/or requests for an invitation to attend. The symposium was also publicised on the website of the Forum for Suicide & Culture Research (FSCR), and via FSCR Twitter feeds. This helped to raise the profile of the symposium among local researchers.

Results of the sessions

Welcome & Plenary Address

The symposium was introduced by Dr S.M.K. Herath (Head, Department of Sociology, University of Colombo). Dr Herath reminded the audience of the importance of social scientific studies of suicide, especially in Sri Lanka where suicide rates are so high. Next to speak was Dr F.R. Metha (country representative, WHO), who pointed out the heavy psychological and social burden represented by, and caused by, Sri Lanka’s suicide and self-harm epidemic. The plenary address was given by Professor N. Fernando (National Institute of Mental Health). Professor Fernando’s talk provided a general introduction to self-harm and suicide from a global perspective. A lively debate followed concerning the relationship between suicide and mental illness, with one side arguing for a strong relationship with depression and the other suggesting only a weak correlation.

Session 1: Reading Sri Lanka’s suicide rate

The aim of this session was to establish the quantitative framework of suicide and self-harm in Sri Lanka. Three papers were presented, each exploring the rise and fall of the suicide rate from, broadly, medical epidemiological, sociological, and anthropological perspectives. Results of the session included an increased awareness that even though suicide rates have fallen, the rate of self-harm is increasing. A consensus was reached that self-harm remains a major health and social problem and renewed commitments to prevention should be made.

Session 2: Self-harm and suicide in ethnographic contexts

The aim of this session was to provide context to the quantitative picture. Three papers were presented, including two concerned with self-harm and suicide in southern Sri Lanka and one with suicide in northern Sri Lanka. The papers included discussions of suicide and gender, suicide and kinship, and suicide and war. The papers showed how acts of self-harm and self-inflicted death are caused by relational disputes and accusations of shame, and exist as a social practice rather than the consequence of deep-seated psychopathology.

Session 3: Interventions

The aim of this session was to provide an overview of suicide interventions in Sri Lanka and to assess their effectiveness. Five papers were presented, including a review of government policies and in particular the national suicide prevention strategy published in 1997. While the GoSL was lauded for being the first government in Asia to produce such a document, consensus was reached that a new policy is urgently needed and that this should include an implementing body. Building on the findings of the previous sessions, it was also generally agreed that interventions based on Euro-American approaches were unlikely to be effective in the Sri Lankan socio-cultural context.

Session 4: Roundtable debate

The aim of the debate was to address the theme of the conference – what are the social and cultural challenges of suicide prevention in Sri Lanka, and how might they be overcome? – by building of the results of the past two days’ discussions. Six panelists took part, representing the GoSL, local and international suicide prevention organisations, and academia. Results of the debate included calls for greater communication and collaboration between academic researchers and interventionists, and for greater commitments to research targeting the needs of policy and practice experts. It was also expressed that interventionists rely too much on Euro-American approaches to understanding suicide and suicide prevention, and that greater attempts should be made to engage with socio-cultural approaches relevant to the Sri Lankan context.

Outcomes of the symposium

The symposium generated a large amount of interest. Among those who presented at or attended the symposium, there was keen enthusiasm to maintain the momentum started and to forge lasting networks of researchers and prevention experts. To facilitate this, the presentations were made available on the FSCR website. Selected papers will be published in English, Sinhala, and Tamil as part of a special issue of the University of Colombo’s sociology journal.

Among policy/practice stakeholders the symposium provided further impetus to start new projects. The World Bank, in particular, has showed a strong interest to build on the results of the symposium. The Development Partners Secretariat requested a one-page brief to distribute amongst donor organisations and INGOs in order to raise further awareness of the issue. A few days later, the organisers and WHO met with the World Bank’s Senior Health Specialist to discuss how intervention programmes could be taken forward and these meetings are still continuing.

Overall the symposium demonstrated that a large network of researchers and policy/practice experts exists in Sri Lanka, which until the event had not met or had the chance to hear about each other’s work. The symposium suggested that there is significant potential to develop a consortium of experts to conduct policy/practice orientated research studies and develop socio-culturally relevant suicide interventions. As a direct result of the symposium several stakeholders are now in discussions about how this might happen.

Death and the City: Female Public Suicide and Meaningful Space in Modern Mexico City

Sloan, K. A. (2015). Death and the City Female Public Suicide and Meaningful Space in Modern Mexico City. Journal of Urban History, 0096144214566973.

Poised on the cusp of the twentieth century, many urban citizens believed their societies to be sickened by suicide epidemics. It was assumed that rapid modernization and technological advance caused some individuals to develop nervous conditions that negated their impulses for self-preservation. Although statistical evidence pointed to higher rates of suicide among adult men, society believed that youth and women were most vulnerable to the epidemic. This article examines cases of young women carefully planning their suicides in symbolic spaces of Mexico City. It argues that public suicides made self-conscious decisions on how they would die, in particular choosing the sites of their deaths for their cultural meanings. How society viewed their deaths depended upon their virtue in life; nevertheless, Mexicans perpetuated their culture of commemorating the dead by erecting ephemeral memorials at the sites of death.