An Interpretation of Four Men's Experiences of Suicidality

Author: Phillips, Brian

Date: 2004

Publisher: Victoria University of Wellington

Type: Scholarly text, Doctoral

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Victoria University of Wellington


Mental health nurses are frequently called upon to care and provide intervention for suicidal men. While there is substantial literature on male suicide, far less is known about the understandings men have of their suicidal experiences. This study draws upon Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics to explore the understandings that four men have had of their past suicidal experiences. The interpretations developed in this study, as far as possible, make explicit use of my own particular horizon of meaning as researcher and mental health nurse, and as such, seeks to engage with a tradition of mental health nursing. In addition, by consciously bringing an anti-essentialist perspective of masculinity to this process, I explore the way in which gender impacts on men's suicidality. The primary source of information for this study is in-depth, open-ended conversations with four men of European descent in their middle adult years who were asked to talk about their past experiences of suicidality. The interpretations developed here show that for these men, the hermeneutic fusion of history, language, and sociocultural context, provided limited possibilities with which they were able to construe themselves as 'fitting in' with normative standards. These constraints, that are otherwise taken-for-granted and invisible, became explicit through their experience of ongoing victimisation. Furthermore, early understandings of these experiences became a potent horizon of meaning from which they then came to understand later difficult experiences. Victimisation became constitutive of an understanding of self as fundamentally different and (hierarchically)'less-than' other men. Ultimately, suicidality emerged out of a background of ever-present psychological pain accompanying a construction of self as being unable to see themselves as ever 'fitting in'. These men did not regard themselves as having recovered from suicidality, but remain in a process of recovering. This process did not mean figuring out how to 'fit in', or become 'normal' men, but rather, to live meaningfully as men in spite of not 'fitting in' with the sociocultural ideal. This involved a process of repeated cycles of revisiting and reflecting on their personal histories from vantage points permitting understandings that opened up opportunities for personal growth and learning. Relationships were significant for either enabling or disabling this process. Recovering was therefore a continual and idiosyncratic process, rather than an outcome of a specific technique or knowledge. The position taken in this study is that mental health nursing seeks to engage with people and work with them in collaborative, respectful, human relationships. It is argued that mental health nurses work with an individual's situated understandings rather than delivering prescribed treatment determined by diagnosis. Hence, viewing suicidality as socioculturally situated and historically emergent suggests mental health nurses must closely attend to the way in which we bring ourselves into relationships with our clients so that we are then able to create opportunities for change. The exploration of suicidality in this study also alerts us to the possibility that through fusion with clients' pre-understandings, mental health intervention can inadvertently further constrain choices to survive.

Subjects: Communication, Relationship building, Understanding, Psychotherapeutic, Men's health, Recovery, Hermeneutic enquiry, Interpretive methods, Indepth, open ended conversations