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Qual Health Res. 2019 Mar 2:1049732319832869. doi: 10.1177/1049732319832869. [Epub ahead of print]

"What Can We Learn From First-Person Narratives?" The Case of Nonfatal Suicidal Behavior.

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1 Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa.


Responding to the limitations of dominant biomedical quantitative approaches to suicide research, scholars have called for qualitative research documenting first-person narratives of suicide to gain access to the "true experts." This raises questions about what we can learn about suicide from first-person narratives. In this article, we critically examine the practice of analyzing first-person narratives of nonfatal suicidal behavior to make truth claims about the causes of suicide. We make explicit the assumptions that underlie the interpretation of first-person narratives and draw on research within cognitive neuropsychology and social psychology to explore how memory processes, perception, and attribution errors might influence the way individuals narrate their experience. We employ literature from narrative theory and life-writing to argue that narratives about nonfatal suicidal behavior are at best partial accounts which are constructed within very particular circumstances, making it impossible to interpret them as revealing the true causes of suicide.


attempted suicide; critical suicidology; first-person accounts; narratives; nonfatal suicidal behavior; qualitative research; reflexive methodological discussion; suicide prevention


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