Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The liberation of Suicide

(a) Biomedical or ethnic-centred philosophies
‘An ethnoscientific or biomedical approach alone will lead us to a lot of mistakes.’ This was the considered view of James Shore in summarising the(significant) conference on American and Alaskan Native suicide in
1994. His suggestion is simple: to integrate both the biomedical and the ethnic-centred toarrive at a ‘balanced and broader biopsychosocial perspective’. However, it is never simple to have new models accepted and implemented.

Were there to be an integration, then the greater accommodation would have to come from those with a biomedical bias. They appear convinced that biomedical research will provide the key to preventing suicide. That biochemical and genetic causes underlie suicide is, as I argue below, probably the most harmful proposition in suicidology.

Shore writes that most suicide research is descriptive rather than analytical. My view is that it should also be critical. There is a smugness and distancing about the accepted approach to suicidology which concentrates more on ‘scientific method’, chi square correlations and other statistical treatment than on understanding the individual’s behaviour. It is also a way of avoiding getting emotionally involved with the suicide himself or herself. The vivid display of statistical pyrotechnics does not alleviate suicide any more than does the pathologising of suicide as a psychiatric disorder.

(b) Suicide needs all the lenses that can be focused on the phenomenon
Those working in this area need to be steeped in the history of suicide, and in the attitudes to suicide of medicine, religion, law, sociology and psychology to suicide; to be exposed to critiques of those attitudes; to be aware of the theories of writers like Hillman, who provide much broader and liberated perspectives; and, above all, they need the portraits of ‘indigenous’ communities, as provided so succinctly by Lester, which may induce a different way of thinking about ‘indigenous’ suicide—because it is different.

Key Messages:
• Suicidology needs to liberate itself from a monocultural, narrowly-focused biomedical model.
• A separate Aboriginal suicidology must be established, with a greater focus on historical, political and social factors.

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