Suicide in rural Haiti: Clinical and community perceptions of prevalence, etiology, and prevention

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Social Science and Medicine






Haiti; Healthcare communication; Mental health; Qualitative methods; Suicide


Suicide is a complex global public health problem, yet few studies have examined local socio-cultural explanatory models and other contextual factors surrounding suicide in low-and-middle-income countries. Such research is critical, as suicide frequency and etiology, as well as care-seeking in the case of distress, differ contextually and by sub-groups within a population. This is the first study of its kind to explore the dual perspectives of both healthcare workers and community members regarding suicide in Haiti. We conducted semi-structured, in-depth interviews between May and June 2011 with eight biomedical healthcare workers and 16 lay community members. Qualitative data analysis, drawing on interpretive phenomenological analysis, addressed themes including perceived suicide frequency, veracity of suicidal ideation claims, perceived causal factors, religious constructs related to suicide, and support resources for suicidality. Compared to community members, healthcare workers underestimated the frequency of suicide and were less likely to interpret suicide-related claims as representing true intent. Religious perspectives influenced attitudes toward suicide, albeit in different ways: Christian concern with the afterlife resulted in suicide being unacceptable and sinful, while Vodou explanatory frameworks displaced blame and stigma away from suicidal individuals. Healthcare workers' failure to recognize suicide as a serious problem suggests that the formal health system is currently ill-equipped to respond to suicide-related needs. Religious practice and community supports in rural Haiti may serve as essential resources for prevention programs. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.

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