Suicidal Feelings: Mental Disorder or Important Philosophical Concern?


Members of The Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective have been engaged in ongoing online discussions about the pathologization of suicidal feelings in contemporary Suicidology. Many of the authors have been asking whether the psychiatric approach is seriously hindering understanding of feelings that were historically more often seen as having “theological, philosophical, legal, and aesthetical” import.

“Does suicidology’s narrow concept of suicide as an illness to be prevented help or hinder the understanding and prevention of suicide?” writes Durham University’s Tom Widger. “If not, can suicidology’s constituting and self-perpetuating social practices be challenged, changed, or subverted? What might a ‘post-suicidological’ suicidology look like?”

“The contributors to this exchange have already nicely illustrated how contemporary suicidology is predicated on certain ways of saying and doing things and coheres around a set of values and commitments that are largely taken as givens,” writes the University of Victoria’s Jennifer White. “Specifically, suicidology generally draws on a settled ontology of what suicide is (i.e. a regrettable, self-inflicted, intentional, and tragic death that is linked to individual psychopathology). While potentially useful to some, this conceptualization of suicide is not timeless, universal, or natural, and may actually preclude the consideration of approaches and responses that engage with the cultural and sociopolitical contexts that produce vulnerabilities to suicide. It is only when we begin to actively consider alternative readings of suicide that do not align with familiar biomedical or individualistic understandings (including, and perhaps especially, conceptual taboos), that we begin to notice how powerfully regulated and circumscribed ‘thinking suicide’ has become within suicidology.”

White quotes MIA Blogger Laura Delano: “When suicide is seen as something to be prevented, honest listening — which, to me, means listening without needing to act and without needing to find an immediate answer — is deemed irresponsible or even dangerous.” White then asks, “How might we reflexively engage with these paradoxes and contradictions to recognize how we are potentially contributing to the very problems that suicidology has been set up to solve?”

“Suicidology as a Social Practice”: A Reply, Tom Widger (Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, February 1, 2015)

Shaking Up Suicidology, Jennifer White (Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, June 1, 2015)


    • Good point. Also there’s nothing more cruel and counterproductive to the violence and abuse that people expressing such despair are subjected to in the current system. No wonder more psychiatry -> more suicides.

      Report comment

  1. Thanks for the heads up MIA.
    Will take a peek.

    Tongue in cheek and dark humour…..Perhaps the need to prevent suicides is a desire to not want to admit that it might be one of those natural states of being human. Perhaps there is jealousy….”If I have to live in this society, so do you”.
    We can talk about this forever. Is it wrong for a man to choose? To think?
    If you are against suicide, what better way to prevent than to tell him his thoughts are not rational, that he is flawed, his thinking flawed, then corner him and give him suicide drugs. He now lives not only in his prison but the saviour’s also. And now you have to convince him that your prison is the correct one, since you designed it.
    Ever thought of telling a suicidal person that you have felt the same? That it is not wrong to look for solutions? Ever just sit and chat as the man directs? Not trying to undo his story? Not turning a man with thoughts into an infant? “old man, look at my life”

    Report comment