The Politics of Self-Harm Research and Lack Thereof

Lately - well, since starting my doctoral program, I've been thinking about the intersections between psychiatry and colonialism and forgiveness. This may sound weird, but bear with me for a minute.

My first thoughts are that suicide attempt survival is at a similar stage today as was cancer survival in the 1950s, women's heart disease survival in the 1970s, AIDS survival in the 1980s, and the sugar+cholesterol research happening now.

Here's my question: who profited/s by the myopia of early researchers in focusing (or not) on tobacco/smog/coal exposure, white male cancer patients, gay men, saturated fat vs sugar intake? Anyone? Yes, I think so. Was/is the profit personal via academic achievement? Is it personal via ego enhancement? Or is it medical and psychological colonialism? I suspect any/all of the above.

Suicide attempt survivors are still silently vilified in every area of society. MDs can't come out as survivors lest they lose their licenses, nor can police officers or pilots or military personnel. Yes, people with cancer, high cholesterol, AIDS, etc. sometimes lose their jobs to illness and infirmity - yet these patients have gained the right to host and participate in public wellness efforts.

I'm talking about the pink ribbons, heart foundation 5Ks, the AIDS quilt, et al. Have you ever seen a suicide attempt survivor 5K? When do they get to be heroes in their own race to survival? When do we begin to support them from the sidelines and get the heck out of the way?

At what point do I forgive prior researchers' fixations on their own narrow suppositions and move on? As a mother who lost a child to suicide, the shortsighted lack of research into suicide attempt survivors' life-habits makes my blood boil. As a researcher, I try to remember that we are all human and must work to correct our biases as we find them.



Erica KitzmanComment