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To mourn and resist stigma: Narration, meaning-making and self-formation after a parent’s suicide
Linköping University, Department of Social and Welfare Studies, Social Work. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)Alternative title
Att sörja och göra motstånd mot stigma : Berättande, meningsskapande och identitetsformering efter en förälders självmord (Swedish)
Abstract [en]

Grief following a parent’s suicide has been called ‘the silent grief’: due to a prevailing stigma connected to suicide as a mode of death, the parent cannot be talked about. This silenced or distorted communication complicates grieving youths’ meaning reconstruction centred on the question of why the parent committed suicide – a question inevitably linked to queries of who the deceased parent was, and that ultimately triggers thoughts about who oneself has become in the light of this experience. Previous research has emphasized how vulnerable parentally suicidebereaved youths are by categorizing them as ‘at risk group’ of social and psychological problems and even suicide. However, there is scant knowledge about how these young mourners perceive and manage their own grief and need for social support – knowledge that is essential from a professional perspective. The aim of this thesis is to use a narrative research approach to investigate what and how young mourners tell of their experiences in a variety of social contexts: research interviews, a theatre play and two chat contexts on the Internet. Since they actively seek to achieve something through their communication with others, mourning youths are seen as storytellers and social actors, rather than passive victims of circumstance. This thesis shows how these young mourners search for a context outside of their immediate daily networks where they can normalize and liberate themselves and their deceased parent from stigmatizing discourses. The possibility of narrating experiences in a destigmatizing context supports a renegotiation of how to make sense of the suicide – from a voluntary and selfish act, to an involuntary and desperate act caused by adverse life situations or ‘unbearable pain’ and depression. This knowledge is applicable to encounters with parentally suicide-bereaved youths in a professional context, such as social work practice.

Abstract [sv]

Sorgen efter en förälders självmord har kallats ”den tysta sorgen”: eftersom självmord alltjämt är en stigmatiserande dödsorsak är det svårt att prata om den döde föräldern. Sådan tystad eller förvrängd kommunikation försvårar unga sörjandes meningsskapande utifrån frågan varför föräldern tog sitt liv – en fråga ofrånkomligen sammankopplad med funderingar om vem den döde föräldern var, vilket ytterst också väcker tankar om vem man själv har blivit i ljuset av denna erfarenhet. Tidigare forskning har betonat självmordsdrabbade barns sårbarhet genom att kategorisera dem som en ”riskgrupp” för sociala och psykologiska problem och till och med självmord. Emellertid är kunskapen knapp om hur dessa sörjande unga själva uppfattar och hanterar sin sorg och sina stödbehov – en angelägen kunskap ur ett professionellt perspektiv. Syftet med denna avhandling är att genom en narrativ forskningsansats undersöka vad och hur unga sörjande berättar om sina erfarenheter i några olika sociala kontexter: i forskningsintervjuer, en teaterföreställning och två olika chattsammanhang på Internet. Eftersom dessa sörjande unga aktivt försöker åstadkomma något genom sin kommunikation med andra förstås de som berättare och sociala aktörer, snarare än passiva offer för omständigheter. Avhandlingen visar hur unga självmordssörjande söker en plats utanför sina vardagliga relationer, där de kan normalisera och frigöra sig själva och den döde föräldern i relation till stigmatiserande diskurser. Möjligheten att berätta om sina erfarenheter i en icke stigmatiserande kontext kan stödja en omförhandling av självmordet – från en frivillig och självisk handling till en ofrivillig och desperat handling orsakad av en svår livssituation och ”outhärdlig smärta” eller depression. Denna kunskap är tillämpbar i mötet med unga självmordssörjande i en professionell kontext, så som det sociala arbetets praktik.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2016. , 110 p.
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science, ISSN 0282-9800 ; 685
Keyword [en]
Grief, identity, Internet, narrative, stigma, suicide, theatre, youth
Keyword [sv]
Identitet, Internet, narrativ, självmord, sorg, stigma, teater, ungdomar
National Category
Social Work Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology) Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-130794DOI: 10.3384/diss.diva-130794ISBN: 9789176857403 (Print)OAI: diva2:955003
Public defence
2016-09-16, K1, Kåkenhus, Campus Norrköping, Norrköping, 13:15 (English)

In the printed version note 1 on page 15 was incomplete with most of the text missing. In the electronic version note 1 is complete.

Available from: 2016-08-24 Created: 2016-08-24 Last updated: 2016-08-30Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. ‘The stranger inside’: suicide-related grief and ‘othering’ among teenage daughters following the loss of a father to suicide
Open this publication in new window or tab >>‘The stranger inside’: suicide-related grief and ‘othering’ among teenage daughters following the loss of a father to suicide
2013 (English)In: Nordic Social Work Research, ISSN 2156-857X, E-ISSN 2156-8588, Vol. 3, no 2, 185-193 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Grief research highlights risks associated with parental suicide during childhood and adolescence: mental illness, social difficulties, repeated suicide attempts and actual suicide. This article aims to explore how these ‘risks’ are constituted, by investigating the relationship between suicide-related grief and ‘othering’ in four young women’s narratives on their experiences of losing a father to suicide during adolescence. Othering works through expressions of insecurity, avoidance and outright rejection from individuals in the women’s vicinity and even family members. However, what is noteworthy is that othering is also found to work from the inside; due to their father’s norm-breaking act, the women describe themselves as actually being ‘different’ or ‘strange.’ Moreover, attempts to ‘normalise, or ‘liberate’ oneself from the suicide involves attempts to understand its reasons. The preoccupation with ‘why questions,’ thereby primarily appears to be a question of self-formation. ‘The stranger inside’ is described as the strongest impediment to seeking social support.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Taylor & Francis, 2013
adolescent, bereavement, grief, narrative, parental suicide, stigma, othering
National Category
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-93912 (URN)10.1080/2156857X.2013.801877 (DOI)
Available from: 2013-06-12 Created: 2013-06-12 Last updated: 2016-08-24Bibliographically approved
2. The self-murderer from Orminge: A bereaved daughter’s remonstrance to ‘rescue’ her Self through a performed memoir of revolt
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The self-murderer from Orminge: A bereaved daughter’s remonstrance to ‘rescue’ her Self through a performed memoir of revolt
2014 (English)In: Narrative Inquiry, ISSN 1387-6740, E-ISSN 1569-9935, Vol. 24, no 2, 218-238 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Moral discourses, which operate to create difference among people, construct and reconstruct a "suicide stigma" whereby the suicide-bereaved are stigmatized in their social contexts and thus prevented from communicating their experience of loss. Departing from a performance-based pragmatic approach, this article uses Bambergs (1997) positioning theory to analyze a young womans performed memoir as her way of resisting this stigmatizing position. Following her mothers suicide, the daughter-narrator breaks the silence, renegotiates meaning and claims her normalcy - and that of people like her. The audience members, who partake in the emotional and relational aspects of her grief, are positioned as witnesses. They represent society and "the moral court of law", and are endowed with the power to liberate the narrator from her guilt. This article showcases how the narrative format of a performative memoir can enable a process of de-stigmatization and in addition work to empower and help normalize the stigmatized experiences of others.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
John Benjamins Publishing, 2014
adolescent; bereavement; identity; narrative; performance; stigma; suicide
National Category
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-114269 (URN)10.1075/ni.24.2.03hag (DOI)000348131100003 ()
Available from: 2015-02-16 Created: 2015-02-16 Last updated: 2016-08-24
3. 'Suicide stigma' renegotiated: Storytelling, social support and resistance in an Internet-based community for the young suicide-bereaved
Open this publication in new window or tab >>'Suicide stigma' renegotiated: Storytelling, social support and resistance in an Internet-based community for the young suicide-bereaved
2016 (English)In: Qualitative Social Work, ISSN 1473-3250, E-ISSN 1741-3117Article in journal (Refereed) Epub ahead of print
Abstract [en]

From a social constructionist and narrative perspective on grief, which emphasizes the connection between situated storytelling, meaning-making and self-formation, this article explores the power of collective storytelling in an Internet-based community of the suicide-bereaved. This is a context where young mourners who have lost a parent to suicide, among others, turn for social support, which is another main focus of the article. Using Scott and Lymanᅵs taxonomy of ᅵaccounting practicesᅵ to explain ᅵunanticipatedᅵ or ᅵuntoward behaviorᅵ, the approaches to meaning-making of suicide applied in this context for support exchange are analyzed, in the accounts of the parentally bereaved participants and in a co-produced bereavement story. The results showcase how the narrative framing for the interpretation and organization of the suicide experience provided by the website editors as a resistance to the ᅵsuicide stigmaᅵ, together with the power of the experience accumulated by many, can potentially work to destigmatize and empower the parentally bereaved participantsᅵ grief. In addition, this public storytelling is acting to spread ᅵlived knowledgeᅵ and thereby to counteract suicide stigma in society. Ultimately, the results constitute a call for a return to a narrative orientation in social work practice. By adopting a teller-focused approach as part of assessment and treatment, social workers could inspire the often traumatized and stigmatized individuals they encounter to become narrators of their own life- and self-narratives, and to assist in the construction of a more tolerable meaning and identity from their experiences.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Sage Publications, 2016
National Category
Social Work Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-127491 (URN)10.1177/1473325016644039 (DOI)
Available from: 2016-04-28 Created: 2016-04-28 Last updated: 2016-08-24Bibliographically approved

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