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A blog about the Suicide Cultures research project

Author: achandle

Suicide Cultures and ‘the edge’

In May 2023 I was delighted to be featured as the speaker for the ‘First Thursday Seminar Series’ organised by the Centre for Creative-Relational Inquiry, in the School of Health in Social Science, at the University of Edinburgh.

This was a wonderful opportunity to share some thoughts, ideas and ongoing analyses from the pilot work that I did – along with Sarah Wright – for the Suicide Cultures project. We ran a series of arts-based workshops – testing out approaches to working with different community groups to have conversations about suicide, its meanings, and its effects. The audience was a broad mix of counselling and psychotherapy practitioners and researchers, as well other scholars of suicide, and the discussion afterwards was a welcome chance to hear how others connected with the findings, and our analysis of these.

The paper I gave for the seminar drew on some eclectic theoretical resources – Lauren Berlant’s ‘slow death’ and Avery Gordon’s ‘haunted’ sociological imagination – to think through some of the stories that were told about living with and experiencing suicidal distress in our workshops.

You can listen to the seminar here.


February 2022 Newsletter

The February 2022 newsletter for the Suicide Cultures project is now available, featuring updates from the project.

Suicide Cultures Newsletter 3 Feb 2022_final


June 2021 Newsletter

The June 2021 newsletter for the Suicide Cultures project is now available, featuring updates from the project.

Suicide Cultures Newsletter June 2021

October 2020 Newsletter

Issue 01 of the Suicide Cultures Newsletter is now out. You can access the Newsletter here:

Suicide Cultures Newsletter Oct 2020.

Researching suicide in a global pandemic

In May this year I was supposed to be launching the full ‘Suicide Cultures’ project, which was awarded 5 years of funding by the Wellcome Trust. However, not long after the award was confirmed, the UK was hit by 3 weeks of industrial action, and during that time, the Covid-19 crisis rapidly developed. I returned to my office in Edinburgh on Tuesday 17th March, and that day all staff who could work from home were told to do so; all classes were paused that week; all subsequent classes were to be held online. I spent the afternoon setting my computer up to let me work remotely, threw as many books as I could carry into bags, and left.

There never seemed to be a good time to announce the good news about the grant; and as the situation with the pandemic continued to increase rapidly in seriousness and impact on lives and livelihoods, it became clear that the project itself would be significantly affected. In light of this, I shifted the start date – provisionally – to September 2020, to build in time to think, plan, reflect and prepare.

In this blog I wanted to start sketching out some of the different ways that the study of suicide, and in particular the Suicide Cultures project, might be shifted and shaped by the extraordinary circumstances we are currently living through.


On measuring self-harm and suicide

Originally posted March 2019 by Amy Chandler

Image by arielrobin via pixabay 

Measuring and recording self-harm and suicide is challenging, and yet many claims about  suicide and self-harm are fundamentally reliant on an attempt to do so. However, concerns have been raised about the nature of statistical knowledge about self-harm and suicide for some time, especially where this relates to ‘official records’ (Atkinson 1978). For instance, researchers continue to acknowledge that official rates of suicide may be affected by the stigma that remains attached to suicide, particularly in some groups (e.g. children) or religious communities (Scowcroft 2017). This may mean that those charged with recording the nature of a death may be more likely to list the cause as ‘accidental’ rather than ‘suicide’.

On arts-based methods

Blog by Sarah Jeavons Wright, originally posted in February 2019 during her time as Research Fellow on the Wellcome Trust/University of Edinburgh ISSF funded pilot project.

Image by Pexals via Pixaby

It has become increasingly clear since the latter half of the 20th century that knowledge or understanding is not always reducible to language… Thus not only does knowledge come in different forms, the forms of its creation differ

(Eisner, 2008: 5).

As mentioned in our last blog (Language and the Meaning of Suicide), a key component of the ‘Suicide Cultures’ project is to run arts-based workshops with community groups in Scotland, offering people the opportunity to explore and express their feelings and views about suicide through the act of making and creating, be it drawings, paintings, clay forms, collage or writing stories.  Guided by existing evidence which suggests art can help us to get to a place of deeper understanding (Tarr et al 2018), we hope that the ‘Suicide Cultures’ arts-based workshops will enable meaningful exploration, in a co-designed supportive environment, of understandings of suicide that go beyond both rational/cognitive ways of knowing (Vaart et al 2018; Foster 2015).

Arts-based research methods, which incorporate many different approaches (such as those listed above, as well as others including poetry, dance and theatre), centre around the principle of disrupting the power imbalance between researcher and research participant. Informed and shaped by feminist approaches to research, and de-colonising methodologies, arts-based methods strive to challenge normative constructs of ‘data collection’ and research ‘subjects’, and, instead, build new principles of research ‘collaborators’ and the materials generated as participant, or ‘collaborator, produced’ objects (Mannay 2015: 22).   Put simply, arts-based methods seek to ‘democratise, and enliven, both process and product of qualitative research’ (Horsfall and Titchen 2009: 147).

Language and meaning in the study of suicide

Blog by Sarah Jeavons Wright, originally posted in February 2019 during her time as Research Fellow on the Wellcome Trust/University of Edinburgh ISSF funded pilot project.

The ‘Suicide Cultures’ project is focused on exploring the meaning/s of suicide among communities across Scotland. It is our hope that, through conducting arts-based workshops, we will get to a place of deeper understandings of suicide, through the creation of a space in which the complexities and contradictions of meaning can emerge. These workshops will form a central part of the ‘Suicide Cultures’ project, alongside our sociological autopsy of suicides in Scotland.

While our workshops will be arts-based – that is, offering ways of expressing feelings and views about suicide through ways that do not rely upon language (something that will be discussed in another blog post) – it is nevertheless almost certainly the case that discussion will happen alongside the art-making. Such discussion will be important for gaining insights into the specific ways in which people talk about suicide, for example, what words do they use? How do they speak about it (direct language, or metaphor, for example)? What are the nuances? When we pay attention to how people talk about suicide, we are better able to engage with complex understandings and definitions of suicide and suicidal behaviour. For example, regarding moral judgements: is suicide always viewed negatively? Are there instances when suicide is seen as an understandable response? If so, what are these instances?

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