Suicide, Disorder, and Causal Judgements: A Philosophical Investigation

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Research Project Grant [RPG]


Suicide is a major concern for society worldwide. Globally, over 800,000 people die from suicide each year and it is among the leading causes of death in most countries. Given the seriousness of the problem, various disciplines have made efforts to investigate the causes of suicide and initiatives for suicide prevention have been proposed by major public health organisations. However, despite the substantial amount of research into suicide causation that has been conducted through these various approaches, there remains considerable uncertainty about how to approach suicide prevention. Furthermore, although it is widely accepted that suicide is associated with mental disorder, there remains a lack of clarity regarding the precise nature of this connection. These problems are not merely empirical issues, but reflect deeper philosophical issues concerning the concept of mental disorder, the epistemology of behavioural science, and the metaphysics of multifactorial causation. Hence, philosophical analysis has much to contribute to a better understanding of the connection between mental disorder and suicide causation.

“Suicide, Disorder, and Causal Judgements” is a research project that investigates the connection between mental disorder and suicide causation from a philosophy of science perspective. The specific questions being addressed include the following. Is the association between mental disorder and suicide straightforwardly empirical or is it partly conceptual, given that suicidality is included in the diagnostic criteria for some psychiatric diagnoses? Does this make it circular to invoke mental disorder as an explanation of suicide? How do the different approaches to studying suicide causation relate to one another? Do these different approaches make different assumptions about the concept of mental disorder and the nature of causation? Given that suicide is the outcome of multiple causes and reasons that interact in complex ways, why does mental disorder tend to get privileged over other factors as a primary cause of suicide? Are there political incentives which influence the downplaying of major social causes of suicide, such as government austerity measures?

This project is led by Dr Hane Maung at the Department of Philosophy, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester. It is funded by a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship.
Short titleR:HSP Leverhulme Fell HBeebee
Effective start/end date1/05/1830/04/22

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