Emerging voice : exploring the experiences of mothers bereaved by suicide within the socio-cultural context of Aotearoa : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Psychology at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
The youth suicide rate in Aotearoa has risen rapidly since the late 1980s with 19.3 deaths per 100,000 in 2011. Māori youth suicide is 2.4 times higher than that of Pākehā youth. Loss through suicide potentially triggers intense feelings of sadness, anger, worthlessness, heartache and vulnerability in survivors. This thesis reports original research that brings understanding to the experience of mothers who have experienced the loss of their child in adolescence or early adulthood. A qualitative methodology, phenomenological research guided by Māori principles and values, and kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) semi-structured conversational interviews were utilised to gather data from both Pākehā and Māori mothers. The intention of phenomenological research is to locate Aotearoa mothers’ knowledge at the centre of the research, and in doing so enables an atmosphere of respect and understanding to occur for all the mothers involved. The stories of mothers who have lost a child through suicide were examined for aspects of resiliencies, social support, and effects of the experience of suicide on relationships during the process of recovery. The devastating emotional effect of suicide on the mothers and their families resonated throughout their narratives. What was evidenced through the analysis was the influence of socio-cultural constructions of mothering and suicide on the burden of responsibility felt by mothers. The research enabled an understanding that some forms of social support were not necessarily experienced by mothers as conducive to recovery and wellbeing following loss of their child to suicide. In addition, the analysis exposed the devastating intergenerational harm perpetuated by the ‘code of silence’ surrounding suicide, revealing the necessity for psychology to challenge responsibly the validity of maintaining the silence.