Widespread fears of an apocalyptic future elicit equally dangerous responses: nihilistic thoughts and decadent lifestyles that accelerate environmental destruction, or fundamentalist intolerance that exacerbates social-political conflict. The only safe approach to suspicions of the apocalypse is adaptation through activism. (Richard Eckersley*)
In his article (which I urge you to read – find link below) Eckersley talks of the “hope and creative energy of activism” in contrast to the “decadence and degeneracy of nihilism” and the “dogma and rigidity of fundamentalism”.
This notion of activism is the best word I have for what I’ve been doing since (and indeed during) my PhD work. My PhD was primarily motivated by wanting to bring spirituality into the academic discourse around suicide and suicide prevention. OK, this was always going to be tough within academia, though we sort of got there on the end. But I was not prepared for the brick wall of dogma and prejudice that I found in contemporary Suicidology, and also in the field of mental health more generally, and then, even more widely, in the campaign for the rights of all people with disabilities.
This section of the website looks at this activism. It includes more of my writings and talks that I’ve given. It also includes some other recommended reading and links to the work of other activists, both individuals and organisations, that I’ve found inspiring.
My work – and this website – identifies some key themes for this different conversion. You’ll find lots more about these themes elsewhere on this website so for now, very briefly, they are…
- hearing from survivors - i.e. the need to hear (and allow) the first-person voice of those with the lived experience of suicidal feelings
- reconceptualising suicide as a crisis of the self - i.e. rather than the prevailing medical model that sees suicide as due to “mental illness”
- human rights as a core issue for suicide prevention – suicide risk is one of the primary reasons given for locking people up and forcing unwanted medical treatment on them, which I say contributes to rather than reduces the suicide toll
- the madness of psychiatry, with it’s excessive medicalisation of suicide, is one of the greatest obstacles to a more useful and meaningful conversation about suicide, and therefore also contributes to rather than reduces the suicide toll
- spirituality, in it’s many forms, is frequently significant for many people struggling with extreme distress and the will to live, but is a topic that is forbidden by the current (pseudo-) scientific discourse of suicide prevention
- disability is a word that many people labelled as ‘mentally ill’ are uncomfortable with, but the modern usage based on the social model of disability is not just a useful phrase but also represents a well-developed social movement based on social inclusion and human rights and where we will find some of our strongest allies
- the need develop and promote alternatives to the current ineffective options for suicidal people, beginning with an alternative conversation about suicide
* I can’t recommend Eckersley’s work strongly enough. He’s actually primarily an epidemiologist but he can make dry old statistics sing with a resonance that makes for compelling reading. The paper quoted above is ‘Nihilism, fundamentalism, or activism: Three responses to fears of the Apocalypse‘ (The Futurist, vol. 42, no. 1, Jan-Feb, 2008, pp. 35-39. You’ll find plenty more, all worth reading, at his website www.richardeckersley.com.au.