The International Handbook of Suicide Prevention: Research, Policy and Practice

By Rory C. O’Connor; Jane Pirkis | Go to book overview

39
Time to Change Direction
in Suicide Research

Heidi Hjelmeland and Birthe Loa Knizek


Introduction

On the basis of a brief and critical discussion of current mainstream suicide research, this chapter outlines what kind of research we need to move the field of suicidology forward. We begin by drawing the distinction between explanation and understanding as described by philosophers of science (e.g., von Wright, 1971/2004). Studies focusing on explanations most often use hypotheticodeductive or experimental methodologies, usually employing quantitative approaches. The main framework of such studies is the biomedical model (e.g., von Uexküll & Wesiack, 1988) and, although the concept of cause is not always explicitly stated, such studies mainly use the linear cause-and-effect framework in the search for underlying causes of suicidal behavior based on the principles of the natural sciences. The consequence is reductionism. Studies concerned with understanding focus on the meaning(s) suicidal behavior has for the individual, normally using qualitative approaches. Such studies center on how individuals interpret themselves, their actions, and their surroundings (Hjelmeland & Knizek, 2010).

Below we suggest that most of today’s mainstream suicide research unilaterally focuses on explanations, very often in terms of linear cause-and-effect-type thinking. The field is dominated by repetitive risk factor studies, reductionist biological studies, and, to a lesser extent, intervention studies (e.g., randomized controlled trials, RCTs) with inherent limitations. We argue that to move the field forward we need to increase studies focusing on understanding suicidal behavior in different cultural contexts.

The International Handbook of Suicide Prevention, Second Edition. Edited by Rory C. O’Connor and Jane Pirkis. © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2016 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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