What Does a “Better World” Mean for Suicidal People? Social Movements' Response to Suicide

Tuesday, 12 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 6B P (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Distributed Paper
Alexandre BARIL, Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies, University of Ottawa, Canada
This presentation demonstrates that suicide is interpreted from either a medical/psychological or social perspective, with no third option. The medical/psychological perspective reduces suicide to an individual pathology curable with chemical therapies and/or psychotherapy and erases the role of structural oppression in the desire to die. The social perspective conceptualizes suicide as the effect of systemic factors, like homophobia, transphobia, and ableism, that diminish quality of life. Despite significant differences, the medical and social models agree with prevention campaigns that “suicide is not an option” because it is an irrational answer to suffering. Inspired by anti-ableist critics of both the medical and social models (Crow 1996; Wendell 1996; Kafer 2013), I use a subjective-social model of disability to reflect on the phenomenological and social experiences of suicide and argue that suicide can sometimes be a rational, acceptable option for depressed people. I demonstrate that mental ableism (or sanism) is the pre-condition that renders suicide “not an option” (Hewitt 2010). Combining critical discourse analysis, genealogy, and deconstruction, I analyze queer, trans, and disability studies/movements’ discourses on suicide. I show that, despite legitimate concern about the over-representation of marginalized groups in suicide statistics and the need for structural changes to eliminate oppression, social movements’ insistence on the social overshadows suicidal people’s subjective experience. I call for a politics of compassion, responsibility, and accountability capable of accompanying suicidal people in their desire to die. This approach is meant to complement, not supersede, the fight against systemic oppression and the quest to find alternative solutions. Because they are delegitimized, stigmatized, institutionalized, and criminalized, I argue that suicidal people constitute a marginalized group. I show that despite intersectional analyses and the desire to build solidarities between marginalized populations, social movements consider suicidal people irrational and fail to take them into consideration.