Thinking About Suicide

Foreword – Valerie Walkerdine*

I first met David when I went to Victoria University in Melbourne to take part in a workshop on courageous research. I vividly remember sitting in the room hearing about the astonishingly courageous work that David was doing and feeling deeply moved by it.

The book that has grown out of his PhD is a wonderful book. It is quite astounding and depressing that, as David points out, it is so rare in the literature on suicidology to hear the point of view of those with suicidal feelings, that indeed a whole field of research can be constructed which never seems to talk to those it claims to pronounce on. David presents the book in a way that brings together his own narrative set against what is known in the research and medical literature. It is his  own search for an understanding and a solution which makes the reading of the research literature so poignant and pointed. And the solution which David finds is not simple but it has a tremendous simplicity, a deeply moving tribute to the embracing of life through being, and its ability to still and to transcend the insistent terror within.

Psychiatry does not get a very good press in this book and justifiably so. It is a terrible indictment of the failure to listen to people such as David and to be able to hear what they are saying. It is not of course, as David makes clear, that there were not many people who tried very hard to help. But somehow they fail to grasp the basic suffering and come up with a solution that allows in rather than stifling the terrible feelings, allowing room for them to be experienced in a different way.

That David finds his solution in a form of spirituality might surprise some. However, what we can take from this is a sense of engaging with the possibility of space, of silence, of holding and containment, in all its simplicity, and thus in finding this, the need no longer to struggle to live but to accept and be able to embrace, life.

The book calls for a broad conversation on suicide. This is so badly needed. It might seem, on first sight, that suicide is to be understood medically. But the book makes it clear that actually medical explanations and interventions can themselves get in the way of understanding the suicidal impulse in a different way. What David presents us with is an attempt to engage with suicidal beingness, the experience of being suicidal, a way of approaching a topic key to the method and theory called phenomenology. The experience of being is both where he begins and where his search ends.

There are many things that make up our experience of course but attempting to understand a phenomenon from the point of view of the experience of the person in question is key. So, in the broad conversation on suicide that this book calls for, attempting to understand the experiences of those who become suicidal is absolutely key.

I work in an area of south Wales which has had a spate of youth male suicides. What is the experience of despair which has led to these? How can we understand and make any successful interventions if we cannot understand the first thing about the experience of this despair? Not by medicalising it but really trying to understand both how it feels and what it means.

David’s book is one which demands to be read by those who feel or have felt suicidal and all of those who come into contact with them, either personally or professionally. The book’s call for a conversation is long overdue. Let us hope that this wonderful and courageous book can help to start it.

March, 2010

* Valerie Walkerdine is Research Professor in the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University.