The Construction of Suicide on Campus: A Critical Analysis of University and Student Suicide Discourses

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The Construction of Suicide on Campus: A Critical Analysis of University and Student Suicide Discourses

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Since the turn of the century, college student suicide has represented an important issue in higher education. While suicide rates have been slowly declining among the college student population, the prevalence of suicidal ideation has risen precipitously. This rise in the prevalence of suicidal ideation has accompanied an increase in the prevalence of mental health issues and diagnosed mental illness among college students. Students and their families often expect a high level of care from colleges and universities while also exercising their constitutionally protected rights. Institutions are left to design suicide prevention and intervention programs in a complicated environment. These suicide prevention and intervention programs adhere to a dominant paradigm about suicide, referred to as contemporary suicidology, in which suicide is considered a pathological and individual concern. Traditionally, suicide has been studied through this single, clinically focused lens. In this study, Critical Discourse Analysis was employed as a methodology to examine the language that a university (Midwest U) and its students use to discuss suicide. The theoretical lens of critical suicidology, an emerging field of study, illuminated the dominance of contemporary suicidology in the institutional discourse about suicide. In university documents and practitioner interviews, suicide was constructed as a crisis or a secret, with the only appropriate response to a student with suicidal thoughts being referring them to a mental health professional or to call 911. This construction was problematized through the lens of critical suicidology. The goal of using critical suicidology was to show that contemporary suicidology’s hegemony prevents a construction of suicide as a multidimensional, paradoxical state with different meanings to different people. Analysis of students’ own discourses about suicide illuminated how they both conform to and rebel against the dominant construction of suicide by constructing suicide as a public trouble. Findings in this study demonstrated how the dominant suicide paradigm pervades campus suicide discourses and its effect on suicide prevention and intervention. Implications for suicide prevention through a critical lens are discussed, with an emphasis on liberating campus suicide prevention by refocusing on social justice.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. 2021. Major: Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. Advisor: Karen Miksch. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 248 pages.

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Kaler, Lisa. (2021). The Construction of Suicide on Campus: A Critical Analysis of University and Student Suicide Discourses. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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