Suicidal Self-Burning in Women and Men Around the World: A Cultural and Gender Analysis of Patterns and Explanations

Document Type

Book Chapter




Maurizio Pompili

Publication (Name of Journal)

Suicide Risk Assessment and Prevention


Brain and Mind Institute


Springer Cham


Self-burning is a violent suicide method with high morbidity and mortality. In some regions it is most common among women and in other regions among men. This pattern is consistent with a foundational idea in suicide-scripts theory (Canetto, 1997) – specifically, that the typical suicidal individual and suicide method vary by culture. Women’s predominance, in some regions, among the suicidal self-burning challenges many myths about gender and suicide, including the idea that women always avoid disfiguring, painful, and highly lethal methods. A common script in terms of the motivation and meanings of suicidal self-burning is that it is a way to protest against social injustices and persecution. In the case of women, the social injustices and persecution are institutionally enabled but typically perpetrated by close family. The social injustice context and the protest message of women’s suicidal self-burning are well-articulated in the literature but are often lost when the situation is summarized as a family problem or a mental health issue. The social injustices and persecution associated with men’s suicidal self-burning typically involve distant institutions, such as the government. The social injustice and protest framework remains central to the dominant narrative of men’s suicidal self-burning. Questions about personal (e.g., mental health) difficulties potentially contributing to men’s suicidal self-burning are not asked. To correct these gender biases in the suicidal self-burning literature, we recommend privileging attention to social factors in theory, research, and the prevention of women’s suicidal self-burning; and to psychological and close relationship factors in theory, research, and the prevention of men’s self-burning.