Hidden Death and Social Suffering: A Critical Investigation of Suicide, Death Surveillance, and Implications for Addressing a Complex Health Burden in Nepal, by Ashley K. Hagaman

Hagaman, Ashley K. 2017. Hidden Death and Social Suffering: A Critical Investigation of Suicide, Death Surveillance, and Implications for Addressing a Complex Health Burden in Nepal. Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ.

Abstract:
Suicide is one of the fastest-growing and least-understood causes of death, particularly in low and middle income countries (LMIC). In low-income settings, where the technical capacity for death surveillance is limited, suicides may constitute a significant portion of early deaths, but disappear as they are filtered through reporting systems shaped by social, cultural, and political institutions. These deaths become unknown and unaddressed. This dissertation illuminates how suicide is perceived, contested, experienced, and interpreted in institutions ranging from the local (i.e., family, community) to the professional (i.e., medical, law enforcement) in Nepal, a country purported to have one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Drawing on a critical medical anthropology approach, I bridge public health and anthropological perspectives to better situate the problem of suicide within a greater social-political context. I argue that these complex, contestable deaths, become falsely homogenized, or lost. During 18 months of fieldwork in Nepal, qualitative, data tracing, and psychological autopsy methodologies were conducted. Findings are shared through three lenses: (1) health policy and world systems; (2) epidemiology and (3) socio-cultural. The first investigates how actors representing familial, legal, and medical institutions perceive, contest, and negotiate suicide documentation, ultimately failing to accurately capture a leading cause of death. Using epidemiologic perspectives, surveillance data from medical and legal agencies are analyzed and pragmatic approaches to better detect and prevent suicidal death in the Nepali context are recommended. The third lens provides perceived explanatory models for suicide. These narratives offer important insights into the material, social, and cultural factors that shape suicidal acts in Nepal. Findings are triangulated to inform policy, prevention, and intervention approaches to reduce suicidal behavior and improve health system capabilities to monitor violent deaths. These approaches go beyond typical psychological investigations of suicide by situating self-inflicted death within broader familial, social, and political contexts. Findings contribute to cultural anthropological theories related to suicide and knowledge production, while informing public health solutions. Looking from the margins towards centers of power, this dissertation explicates how varying institutional numbers can obfuscate and invalidate suffering experienced at local levels.

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