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)

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