Attitudes Towards Suicide: Exploring the Cultural Meaning(s) Of Suicide In Ghana
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Cultural context of every suicidal act exerts influence on what the act represents. Suicide has thus been described as a cultural artifact (Boldt, 1988).The meaning of suicide has become an important area of suicide research because when the meaning of the act is understood from a cultural context, it could inform sensitive suicide intervention programs. This thesis set out to understand suicide from the Ghanaian cultural context using a qualitative approach. Various groups of informants were interviewed. They include psychology students, psychologists, nurses, and lay persons. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was used to analyze the data. The results from these interviews form four papers in the thesis. Among the students, nurses and lay persons, suicidal behavior in Ghana was largely conceived as a moral issue with moral meanings. Some of these moral meanings of suicide include: suicide is a waste of potential, suicide is a social injury, suicide is a faith-failure, suicide is a crime, and suicide is a transgression These meanings classify suicide as a breach of two major moral rules: religious values and societal harmony. Within the postulations of the two forms of moral discourses within interdependent society as indicated by Shweder, Much, Mahapatra and Park (1997) two major moral meanings of suicide were gleaned: suicide is a violation of divine morality and suicide is a violation of communal morality. Consistent with those conceived moral meanings, the suicidal person was viewed as culpable and condemnable and facilitated a view of suicide prevention from a proscriptive perspective. The psychologists on the other hand generally viewed suicide from a mental health point of view and thus saw the act as health crisis and pathology. Consistent with their view of the act, suicidal persons were profiled as needful individuals who deserve empathy and help rather than condemnation. Suicide prevention to them should be best approached from a more prescriptive approach. On the whole, attitudes towards suicidal behavior in Ghana are in linear motion (i.e., the way suicide is conceived affects how suicidal persons are viewed and also how suicide prevention should be approached). Additionally, attitudes toward suicide lie between morality and mental health. The former (i.e., the moral view) is composed of religious and societal values and is deeply fused with the cultural context. The latter is a specialized view (since it is pervasive among trained health professionals, especially the psychologists) and although relative to the moral view, is not pervasive in the Ghanaian cultural context, does seem to hold promise of counteracting the stigma that is facilitated by the moral view. Implications for future studies and suicide prevention in the country are discussed.