A qualitative study of the cultural implications of attempted suicide and its prevention in South India

UoM administered thesis: Phd

Abstract

Suicide in India is a complex social issue and a neglected area by the state. Research has focused on risk factors and the epidemiology of suicide; studies concerning the intersection of culture with attempted suicide are limited. The aim of this study is to explore cultural implications of attempted suicide and its prevention in Southern India by means of comparing and contrasting the accounts of survivors of attempted suicide, mental health professionals and traditional healers engaged in treating people with suicidal behaviour.MethodologyA qualitative design is used drawing on constant comparison method and thematic analysis. The analysis of the data is underpinned by the theoretical concepts of Bourdieu's work. In-depth interviews were conducted with fifteen survivors of attempted suicide, eight mental health professionals and eight healers from Southern India. ResultsApplication of Bourdieu's theory of symbolic power and violence, cultural capital and habitus to the analysis of data revealed the process of constant interaction among visible and invisible fields such as faith, power, control, family, religion and social systems which impact survivors' disposition to situations. Disparities in gender and role structures within families, financial challenges, health concerns, abuse, and violence were commonly cited factors by all three groups of participants. A few survivors and healers attributed misfortunes and distress to magic, spells and 'bad times'. Healers and professionals were particularly of the opinion that cultural transition has added to stress among people. Survivors considered religious and traditional methods of support as socially accepted norms. Medical assistance was sought only during apparent ill health. Psychosocial support was very rarely accessed and availed. A lack of awareness among family members and friends to identify mental health concerns and a wide gap between identification of severe stressors and treatment increased the risk of suicide and limited timely intervention.ConclusionThis study identified a set of cultural mechanisms that produced negative impact and led to attempted suicide. The role of culture in causing suicide and attempted suicide is explained by unraveling the dynamics of cultural mechanisms and support processes that survivors experienced and as reported by professionals and healers. This research evidence presents pathways into attempted suicide and a life away from suicide.

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Original languageEnglish
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Award date1 Aug 2015

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