Distinguishing Between Suicidality and Mental Illness


  • Elle Beck Klassen McMaster University




This paper utilizes various different cultural and historical contexts to investigate the modern Western perception of the relationship between mental illness and suicidality. The author first breaks down the nuances and assumptions inherent to the “mental illness” concept, and then uses these complexities to demonstrate that conceptions of suicidality are unjustifiably narrow. Through the examination of modern and historical Japanese, Chinese, Indigenous, and other worldviews, the author demonstrates the plethora of interpretations of human suicidality, and then regards these in light of the previously established fluid idea of mental illness. The paper concludes that suicidality is not inherent or automatic evidence of mental illness, but rather, a nuanced phenomenon that can be indicative of a variety of mental states. As a result, the author encourages a stronger basis in lived experience for suicidality prevention measures.