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Social Suicide: A Psychoanalysis of Adolescent Social Media Use
Tamasine Preece
Submitted to Swansea University in fulfilm...
The rapid change in communications technology, the emergence of ubiquitous
computing and the growth of social med...
Declarations and Statements
This work has not previously been accepted in substance for any degree and is not
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  1. 1. Social Suicide: A Psychoanalysis of Adolescent Social Media Use Tamasine Preece Submitted to Swansea University in fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy Swansea University 2014
  2. 2. Abstract The rapid change in communications technology, the emergence of ubiquitous computing and the growth of social media have introduced a new context for adolescence. There has been considerable speculation about the effects this new media is having on child behaviour and development. The aim of my work is to explore the relationship between social media and adolescent risk-taking behaviour, self-harm and suicidal ideation. This research attempts to address a gap in the literature between adult constructions of children's online use and the 'life-world' of the adolescent virtual context. In order to explore these issues 29 young people were invited to participate in a series of group interviews about their use of social media and subsequent risk-taking behaviour. The research findings show how the quantitative nature of previous research into adolescent behaviour, and with its overriding emphasis on 'risk' in terms of bullying, access to problematic content and sexual-predators contrasts markedly to the online dangers perceived by young people. Furthermore, outcomes of this study indicate that, in direct contrast to the advice of a range of online safety services, young people are motivated to seek out opportunities in order to experience risk to enhance self- promotion and increase visibility. The findings of this current project confirm the need for a new approach to the assessment of effects of social media on young people. I consider identity construction and behaviours such as risk-taking activity, self-harm and suicidal ideation within the context of online 'memes' or viral themes and include an exploration of the implications for adolescent perceptions of mortality and a new context for digital-self-harm. ii
  3. 3. Declarations and Statements DECLARATION This work has not previously been accepted in substance for any degree and is not being concurrently submitted in candidature for any degree. Signed ...................................................................... (candidate) Date ........................................................................ STATEMENT 1 This thesis is the result of my own investigations, except where otherwise stated. Where correction services have been used, the extent and nature of the correction is clearly marked in a footnote(s). Other sources are acknowledged by footnotes giving explicit references. A bibliography is appended. Signed ..................................................................... (candidate) Date ........................................................................ STATEMENT 2 I hereby give consent for my thesis, if accepted, to be available for photocopying and for inter-library loan, and for the title and summary to be made available to outside organisations. Signed ..................................................................... (candidate) Date ........................................................................
  4. 4. Contents Abstract ii Declarations and Statements iii Contents iv Acknowledgements viii List of Tables and Illustrations ix Definitions and Abbreviations x 1. Chapter One – Introduction 2 1.1. Context 2 1.1.1. Terminology 3 1.1.2. Self-harm and Suicide 4 1.1.3. Social Media Behaviours 4 1.2. A Passion Play for Port Talbot 5 1.3. The Bridgend Suicide Incidents 17 2. Chapter Two – Self-Harm, Suicide and Psychoanalysis 25 2.1. Interventions and Approaches: Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) and Student Assistance Programme (SAP) 25 2.2. An Overview of Psychoanalysis 24 2.3. “Identity versus Identity Confusion” – Erik H Erikson 26 2.4. Self-Harm, Suicide and Adolescent Risk-Taking Behaviours 34 3. Chapter Three – The Will to Technology 46 3.1. More Knowledgeable Others - Vygotsky 46 3.2. The Will to Technology in Wales 47 3.3. Silicon Valley Schools 48 3.4. Moshi Monsters - Social Media Training 52 4. Chapter Four – New Moralities 64 4.1. “Bodies in Technology” 64 4.2. “The Medium is the Massage” – Marshall McLuhan 66 iv
  5. 5. 4.3. “Rage across the Body” – Arthur Kroker 75 4.4. “Tethered Parenting” 75 5. Chapter Five – Methods 84 5.1. Introduction - ‘To understand the other’ 84 5.2. Research and Young People 85 5.3. The Focus Group 89 5.4. Case Study or Ethnography? 92 5.5. Participant Selection 93 5.6. Transcription 95 5.7. Questions and Questioning 95 5.8. The research process 97 5.9. Ethics 98 5.10. The Participants 98 5.10.1. June 2012 Group One – Chris, Jon, Rhys and Ross 99 5.10.2. July 2012 Group Two – Erin, Grace, Harrison, Heather, Joel, Laurel and Matt 101 5.10.3. November 2012 Group Three – Catriona, Corinne, Craig,, Ieuan, Oliver, Rachel, Sallie, Josh and Vicky 102 5.10.4. December 2012 Group Four – Laura, Michael and Sara 104 5.10.5. January 2013 Group Five - Emily, Ffion, Neil 105 5.10.6. July 2013 Group Six - Jake, James and Rich 105 6. Chapter Six – The Process of Analysis 107 7. Chapter Seven – Findings 114 7.1. Known Concerns 114 7.2. The Perceived Benefits of Offline Support 131 8. Chapter Eight – A New Context for Adolescence 137 8.1 The Adultification of Children 137 8.1.1 Children as (Mis)Educators 141 8.1.2 Children as Peer Supporters 146 8.1.3 Children as Young Consumers 148 8.1.4 Nostalgic Children 152
  6. 6. 8.2 The Infantilisation of Adults 156 8.3 “I Can…” - (Too) Great Expectations 163 8.3.1 …Belong 171 8.3.2 …Be Understood 171 8.3.3 …Be Famous 174 9 Chapter Nine – Social Suicide: Attracting Attention, Sustaining Attention Harm 178 10 Chapter Ten – A New Context for Digital Self-Harm 209 10.1 Cutting the Digital Body 215 10.2 Digital Self-Harm: As Revenge Fantasy 223 10.3 Digital Self-Harm: As Self-Punishment Fantasy 224 10.4 Digital Self-Harm: As Assassination Fantasy 224 10.5 Digital Self-Harm: As Dicing with Death Fantasy 225 10.6 Digital Self-Harm: As Merging Fantasy 226 11 Chapter Eleven – Conclusion 228 Appendices 237 Appendix I - Methodological Processes 238 I.i Ethical Clearance Schedule 238 I.ii Participant Recruitment Process 239 I.iii The Focus Group Schedule 235 Appendix II – Participant Documentation 242 II.i Social Media and Well-Bring Interview Information 242 II.ii Consent Form 245 Appendix III - Social Media Sites and Applications 246 IIIi 246 III.ii ChatRoulette 247 III.iii Facebook 248 III.iv Instagram 250 III.v SnapChat 251 Tmblr 252 vi
  7. 7. III.vii Twitter 253 III.viii Vine 255 III.ix YouTube 256 Appendix IV Summary of Contemporary Subcultures 257 IV.i Emo 257 IV.ii Gamer Chick 259 IV.iii Hipster 260 IV.iv Scene Kid 261 IV.v Spice Boy 262 References 263
  8. 8. Acknowledgements There is absolutely no chance whatsoever that this project could have taken place without the fantastic support of my supervisor, Prof. Marcus Doel and my second supervisor, Dr Phil Jones who, though I be so very normative, have encouraged, understood and supported me far beyond the call of duty. My thanks go to all of the young people who volunteered to take part in this study as participants, as well as my incredible students, past and present, who have inspired me with their honesty and, often, immense bravery. I am indebted to my fantastic friends, especially those who have academic, creative or personal projects of their own. In terms of helping me to get started, keeping me on track and up-to-date, as well as hand-holding me through the last dark few weeks, however, particular love and thanks goes to Brandon Ashford, Jack Dagger, Douglas Gray, Drew Hawtin, Craig and Ryan Holman, Jo Furber, Becky Jones, Mike Lapin, Alison Lewis and Ali Moloney. Thank you to my very lovely mum and dad, John and Doreen Fryer, and to Ben, who have absolutely always, unquestioningly got it. And for Polly and Barnaby – this is all for you. viii
  9. 9. List of Tables and Illustrations Tables Page No. Table No. Description 21 Table 1 Age specific suicide rates in Wales, males 109 Table 2 The 10 most frequently used words during the two Year 12 focus groups. 111 Table 3 Incidence of reference to key words in the Year 10 focus groups. 111 Table 4 The 10 most frequently used words during the Year 10 focus groups. Illustrations Page No. Image No. Description 1 Fig. 1 Graffiti from the M4 underpass, Port Talbot 6 Fig. 2 Audience members record The Passion of Port Talbot on smartphones. 10 Fig. 3 The Teacher is crucified on a traffic island in front of Aberavon seafront. 12 Fig. 4 The Trial of the Teacher by The Company Man 16 Fig. 5 An example of the use of placards in Brechtian theatre 40 Fig. 6 Google Trends: Mephedrone-related searches over time 54 Fig. 7 The six Moshi Monster characters. 55 Fig. 8 “Rox” – The currency of Moshi Monsters 58 Fig. 9 A number of rioters posted pictures of stolen goods on their social media profile page. 61 Fig. 10 Quotation from The Notebook as blogged on Tmblr; cited as an example of how to create affect. 62 Fig. 11 Lyrics from Only Love by Ben Howard. This can be posted as an image or programme to play on access to the Tmblr account to create affect. 81 Fig. 12 A still from Apple's TV advert for the "Parenting" app demonstrating ways in which parents can use their iPhone as a parenting tool. 82 Fig. 13 A still from Apple's "Parenting" advert, demonstrating an app to time children brushing their teeth. 107 Fig. 14 An image of my handwritten annotations on an extract of transcribed focus group recording. 128 Fig. 15 An example of “thinspiration” from a pro-ana website. 130 Fig. 16 A screenshot from ChatRoulette showing two groups of teenagers. 164 Fig. 17 Facebook’s Like button 166 Fig. 18 Selfie – Slug Eyebrows 167 Fig. 19 Selfie – Confused Face 168 Fig. 20 Selfie - Duckface
  10. 10. 169 Fig. 21 Selfie – Subverted Duckface 186 Fig. 22 An example of the “Like my status…” game. 190 Fig. 23 The Facebook page of the mother of Adalia Rose who has the rapid ageing condition, progeria. 190 Fig. 24 An example of a Like if you’re against…” meme. 200 Fig. 25 Body modification activity – ear stretching with ear “tunnels” or “blow-outs” 202 Fig. 26 An image of a skinny boy – “…making a point about him being really skinny” Rich - 18 246 Fig. 27 Screenshot of 247 Fig. 28 Screenshot of ChatRoulette 248 Fig. 29 Screenshot of Facebook. 250 Fig. 30 Screenshot of Instagram. 251 Fig. 32 Screenshot of SnapChat. 252 Fig. 33 Screenshot of Tmblr. 253 Fig. 33 Screenshot of Twitter. 255 Fig. 34 Screenshot of Vine. 256 Fig. 35 Screenshot of YouTube. 257 Fig. 36 Image of an emo boy. 258 Fig. 37 Image of an emo girl. 259 Fig. 38 Image of a gamer chick. 260 Fig. 39 Image of hipsters. 261 Fig. 40 Image of a scene kid. 262 Fig. 41 Image of a spiceboy. x
  11. 11. Definitions and Abbreviations Abbreviation Definition ALN Additional Learning Needs AM Audience Member ASIST Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training AWSLCP All Wales Schools Liaison Core Programme BBM Blackberry Messenger BESA British Educational Suppliers Association CEOP Child Exploitation Online Protection Centre DfEE Department for Education and Employment GCSE General Certificate of Secondary Education ICT Information and Communication Technology IM Instant Messenger KS (Educational) Key Stage LED Light-Emitting Diode LHB Local Health Board MKO More Knowledgeable Other MP Member of Parliament MS Michael Sheen (Actor) NEDS New Emerging Drugs NHS National Health Service NICE National Institute for Health and Care Excellence NOF New Opportunities Fund Ofcom Office of Communications (UK Communications Regulator) Ofsted Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills ONS Office for National Statistics PC Personal Computer PGCE Post Graduate Certificate of Education PR Public Relations PSE Personal and Social Education RIP Rest in Peace SAP Student Assistance Programme UK United Kingdom URL Uniform Resource Locator USA United States of America VLE Virtual Learning Environment YOLO Internet Meme: You Only Live Once ZPD Zone of Proximal Development
  12. 12. Social Suicide Fig.1 Graffiti from the M4 underpass, Port Talbot1 1 C Gillard (2011) M4 Graffitti (2011) [Online] [Accessed 28 July 2014] Available from
  13. 13. Chapter One – Introduction 1.1 Context For the purposes of this study it is useful for me to outline my experiences within the field and, as an educationalist, the values and philosophies by which my approach is governed. I qualified to teach a National Curriculum subject in 2001, and have, subsequently, worked in four secondary settings in England and Wales. Whilst I have always worked within the mainstream sector, I have predominantly, although not exclusively, worked with specific cohorts of young people to include those with learning, language or emotional and behavioural needs. As a result of these experiences, I am confident that, in addition to the specific training that I have undertaken, as well as my own individual research, that I have experienced first- hand, the impact of external (to school) factors on a student’s well-being, behaviour and self-esteem, such as sleep, diet, parental interest and involvement, access to learning resources, routines and structures and boundaries as enforced by caring adults. Whilst I have been able to draw on valuable pre-existing research and resources, and have had the privilege to work alongside and learn from many talented and skilled professionals, supporting the learning and personal development of many young people has often been a matter of trial and error, instinct and intuition. These experiences have lead me towards quite normative views about the characteristics, needs and wants of adolescents: I have developed the opinion that young people want to be happy, to be liked by their peers, as well as the adults who care for them, and to be successful according to their own definition. In not too great a departure from the psychosocial theory of development of Erik Erikson (1968) as I will further discuss in Chapter One, I believe that children want adults to model, and behave in a way that reinforces, expectations and boundaries and that children without boundaries go looking for them. Furthermore, the typical identity interplay and personal experimentation that typify adolescence notwithstanding, I am of the opinion that young people want to behave well: I understand the sharing by young people with adults of their involvement in activities such as substance or alcohol misuse or sexual activity as a self-identification of the need for support and the reinforcement of 2
  14. 14. boundaries, rather than what is often derogatively termed showing-off, deliberate provocation or attention-seeking behaviour. As will be further discussed in Chapter Five in the methods section on this thesis, with specific reference to research regarding child social media use, there is a paucity of research that considers children from a child-centred perspective. Emma Uprichard (2008), however, recognises the construction of children within the polarised position of ‘being’, autonomous social actors, and ‘becoming’, as incomplete, inadequate adults. Uprichard argues that it is unhelpful to view young people in such binary terms, suggesting instead that it authenticates and empowers children to consider them as both ‘being’ and ‘becoming’. I find Uprichard’s position useful in that it is a helpful reminder that children are both complete in their immaturity and in the process of evolving; that problematic behaviours are to be challenged but that adults are responsible for both modelling appropriate behaviours and taking assertive action. 1.1.1 Terminology Throughout this thesis I will use the term adolescents, teenagers or young people to refer to the participants of this study, the children with whom I have worked in a wider professional context, as well as the generational cohort as described in the literature. In determining the age-range of the focus research, however, I decided to focus on young people between the ages of 13 and 19 years old. Erik Erikson identifies “adolescence” as the development period from age 12 to age 18 although many youth organisations provide services for individuals above and below this age range. Bridgend Youth Service, for example, works to support “the fundamental and personal development of young people between the ages of 11-25” (Erikson, 1968; Bridgend County Borough Council, 2013). I decided not to invite or include participants under the age of 13 to take part in this project. This decision is based on the fact that, under the safeguarding and child protection principles of my role as health educator, I am required to follow the Gillick Competency Assessment and Fraser Guidelines (British Medical Association, 2001). I am, therefore, professionally obliged to refer disclosures regarding young people under the age of 13. Despite facilitating open dialogue regarding the themes
  15. 15. of risky or unlawful behaviour during lessons, all students are made fully aware of the limitations of confidentiality. I did not, therefore, want to compromise myself or any of the young people by including those for whom there would be conflict of interest regarding the promise of complete confidentiality during the research process. As an education professional, I have access to and a meaningful working relationship with, children in school settings which provide opportunities for learning for individuals up to the age of 19 (Bridgend College, 2012). For this reason I have chosen this as my maximum age of focus. 1.1.2 Self-harm and Suicide The focus of this study is how young people experience social media, although I entered the process with the awareness from my professional experiences and training that self-harm and suicide are significant aspects of social media use for many young people. In using the terms self-harm and suicide I refer only to attempts by an individual to injure or kill the body, although I do develop the terms to include socially acceptable, and yet deliberate, actions carried out against the body which I believe are done so with the unconscious intention to cause harm. This is due to the fact that at the heart of this thesis is an attempt to understand the meanings and significance behind the behaviours of teenagers as I have witnessed and encountered as a teacher, and any developing relationship that may exist with their social media use. It is important that I state, from the very outset of this project, that despite the fact that I refer to the Suicide Incidents of Bridgend, and that I was involved, to a degree, on a professional level, this is not a study of why young people self-harm and why there was seen to be a cluster of deaths by suicide of young people in South Wales. This study considers the number of reasons why I felt that there was a connection, albeit symbolic in nature, between the social media activity of teenagers, their construction of the self, particularly in relation to others, and any subsequent emerging new context for self-harm and suicidal ideation. 1.1.3 Social Media Behaviours As Bauman writes, “this world I call ‘liquid’ because, like all liquids, it cannot stand still and keep its shape for long” (Bauman, 2011, p. 1). This thesis is an attempt to capture a moment in social media time as it existed for a group of young people in 4
  16. 16. Bridgend. As a user of social media myself, and in the knowledge of contemporary social media applications and trends, in carrying out this research it has been a considerable challenge to retain my focus on the period of time during which the focus groups took place, even though high-profile and interesting activities – from controversial charity memes such as the Make Up Free Selfie for breast cancer awareness and the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for Lou Gehrig’s disease, to YouTube bulletins created by Channel 4 News reporters on the deaths of children in Gaza - may have taken place that appear relevant to this study. It is my view, however, that although the views shared by the participants are universal and transcend place and time, that they deserve to be heard within the context as they mattered to the young people on the day of each individual focus group. 1.2 A Passion Play for Port Talbot In April 2011, the National Theatre Wales presented The Passion of Port Talbot (hereafter referred to as The Passion) in the South Wales town of Port Talbot. The event took place over 72 hours in and around prominent community venues, during which the following exchange took place between lead actor, Michael Sheen, and a member of the public, who Sheen observed filming him with a smartphone: Michael Sheen (MS) - What are you doing? What are you doing? Audience Member (AM) - Well… photographing you. MS - Why? AM - Because you’re interesting? We’re making history. MS - Why don’t you just be here? AM - Be here? MS - Why do you have to watch through that? [gestures to the camera] Why can’t you just be here? AM - I’d love to… MS - Why don’t you put that down and just be here? If I’m that interesting then be with me. If I’m not interesting have that in front of you. (The Gospel of Us, 2012, transcribed by T Preece) It may be said that the presence of mobile telephones should not have been of particular surprise to the actor, not least because social media, including internet websites, Twitter and Facebook had played a key role in its promotion. Local resident Tom Beardshaw, who coordinated the event promotion via social media,
  17. 17. speculated: “We had around 100,000 page views from 25,000 individuals from 130 countries” (WalesOnline, 2012). Fig. 2 Audience members record The Passion of Port Talbot on smartphones2 Furthermore, the inspiration for the play, as outlined by Michael Sheen, to revisit the passion plays as performed in a park in the Port Talbot of his childhood, but also “maybe exploring the idea of what a passion play would be now” would also lead, inevitably, to the presence of mobile telephones (April 2012, transcribed by T Preece). At the time of the production, ninety two percent of adults in the UK had a mobile telephone (Ofcom, 2012) with 81.6m subscriptions held by UK adults and children (Ofcom, 2012). Fifteen percent of households claimed to have a mobile telephone but did not have a landline (Ofcom 2012). In June 2012, the number of text messages surpassed telephone call minutes for the first time in telecommunications history. The telephone has transformed from a static and inanimate object to portable and networked: In terms of context, thirty nine per cent of adults within the UK also used their mobile phone to access the internet (Ofcom, 2 Ireland T (2011) Passion for participation [Online] [Accessed 28 July 2014] Available from images/Guardian/Archive/Search/2011/4/26/1303812138969/Michael-Sheen-in-The- Pass-007.jpg 6
  18. 18. 2012). In a passion play for 2011, therefore, the mobile telephone was prerequisite: technology and telecommunications, it may be said, a contemporary passion. Michael Sheen stated in interview for The Guardian: There were thousands of people turning up, all of which it seemed had a mobile phone and all of which wanted to come and film me or take pictures of me. And at first the shock of that was quite unsettling in that it wasn’t so much that they were filming or taking pictures because I knew that was going to happen. What disturbed me was that it seemed like a buffer between what was actually happening and themselves (The Guardian, April 2012, transcribed by T Preece). Essentially, however, Port Talbot is a town that is defined by being networked or, more specifically, having been radically altered to facilitate the networking of London and Swansea. As Sheen’s character of the Teacher explains in the film clips that were released on the production website throughout the weekend: “No one stops in Port Talbot. They just drive through Port Talbot on the way to somewhere else” (The Gospel of Us, 2012, transcribed by T Preece). This was a town that had been consumed, commoditised and ultimately, in the words of the Teacher, “scarred” by technology; the Port Talbot of his childhood juxtaposed with machines: From up here you look down on the town and you can see it’s just got all these scars. Scars of the motorways just cutting through… Little houses and churches trying to stick up in between… They didn’t care what the town looked like when they made them. Just so people don’t have to stop here or look at anything here. You can hear it all the time just like a drone (The Gospel of Us, 2012, transcribed by T Preece). Welsh poet Owen Sheers, commissioned by the National Theatre Wales to write the script for The Passion, describes in the introduction to the accompanying novel, The Gospel of Us the bastardised landscape that inspired the play: “a saturation of sun disappearing towards a distant horizon… The wind harried beach, tyre tracks coiling like ammonite fossils in the sand… The graffitied pillars that support the M4 above a space of ground where a terrace of houses once stood” (Sheers, 2012, p. 7). The mobile telephones that accompanied the audience members were, then, the juxtaposition of the townspeople of Sheen’s childhood with machines: a networked, bypassed town inhabited by networked people. With echoes of the manner in which the construction of Junction 40 of the M4 in 1966 had dismantled a community, reducing Port Talbot to “more of a view than a place,” the social networks within the
  19. 19. town expanded through commutation, and, like other areas of the UK, through Internet and mobile access to virtual and global communities (Sheers, 2012, p. 6). It would be incorrect to say, however, that the presence of mobile telephones did come to represent the buffer which detached the audience from participating in the events of The Passion; as Owen Sheers gathered the stories from the people of the town prior to the development of the script and subsequently wrote each chapter of The Gospel of Us between the day’s events for distribution to the public the following morning, the script emerged “as much as a response to Port Talbot as it was as a response to the Christian tradition of the passion plays once performed there. It was a piece of theatre grown from a conversation with the town and its people” (Sheers, 2012, pp. 7– 8). As the film goes on you see that these cameras start become something else after a while: they become witnesses to violent acts and a form of resistance, and then eventually it becomes something that throws light over the end and is a kind of pilgrimage or something sort of quite beautiful by the end of it (The Guardian, April, 2012, transcribed by T Preece). The conversation that Sheers describes that subsequently transpired, framed through the mobile telephone and contextualised by the preliminary encounters between Sheers and the town’s residents, serves to present Port Talbot as a microcosm for technologically networked Wales. Port Talbot has a history of industrialisation, commencing with the establishment of copper works in 1770. In 1839 a dock was opened following the diversion of the Afan River – Port Talbot, named after the local Talbot family. The death of William Henry Fox Talbot saw the development of his land by his family into ironworks which then opened in 1831. In 1897, The Port Talbot and Llynfi Railway was opened by The Port Talbot Railway and Docks Company with the intention of diverting business from Cardiff and Swansea. 1952 saw the arrival of the now landmark steelworks, the 1960s the BP chemical plant and 1970 a deep-water harbour (Port Talbot Historical Society, 2014). Despite an economic history dependent on heavy industries, 26 per cent of Port Talbot’s employed population now work in the public sector. Unemployment is above average in the area in comparison with average figures for Wales, due to the decline in the traditional employment of mining and within the copper and steel industries as well as the public sector cuts of the coalition government. In 2012/13, an Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey identified Neath Port Talbot as 8
  20. 20. scoring low in terms of Personal Well-being with residents self-identifying as experiencing high levels of anxiety (ONS, 2013). Furthermore, whilst Wales has higher rates of death by suicides by men of all four nations within the UK, 2008 saw the identification of three Welsh Local Health Boards (LHBs) as having significantly higher rates of suicide than other LHBs within Wales: Debinghshire, Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend. In interview with The Guardian newspaper, Michael Sheen explains: “People are desperate to have a voice and tell their story but certainly in towns like Port Talbot people are frightened that it doesn’t matter. No one’s interested in their story… they’ve got nothing of value to say” (The Guardian, April, 2012, transcribed by T Preece). In terms of value, however, the stories of the residents of Port Talbot have “more than most” (The Guardian, April, 2012, transcribed by T Preece). Beyond the heavy industry which places Port Talbot on the map, both geographically and economically, this was a socially networked town that bore the scars of expanded transport networks. Community blogger Jenni, writing for the official online forum to accompany The Passion, noted: None it appeared felt this loss more than the residents of Llewellyn Street. Once a street of 5 terraced blocks, 2 on one side 3 on the other, and a flourishing community often described as a community within a community, Llewellyn Street was torn apart by the approach of the M4. One resident described it as the downfall of the street and said the street was “left in isolation from the rest of the town” when the bulldozers moved in. He said living with the building works meant living in “perpetual dirt and dust” while watching the monster creep ever closer and ever higher over their houses and their lives. (Jenni, 23 April 2011) “Crucified” on a traffic island in front of Aberavon seafront in Port Talbot, the Teacher calls out the names of community venues that have fallen victim to economic decline and development: “I remember,” he cried, “Beech Hill! The Trafalgar Ball! The beach wreck! Tump number 9! The Majestic! The Regent! The Palace! Egan’s! Players! Bernies! The Forge Road Baths! The Starlight Club! Harvey’s Lake!” And he went on. Like a torrent it was, a flow of the gone town pouring from his mouth. Everything that had been taken, back (Sheers, 2012, p. 164).
  21. 21. Fig. 3 The Teacher is crucified on a traffic island in front of Aberavon seafront3 The Passion facilitated the residents of Port Talbot in articulating that which the “monster” of technology had destroyed: “I’ve come to listen” is the Teacher’s objective (Sheers, 2012, p. 57). As the play’s action directed the audience to Aberavon Beach, the remaining half of Llewellyn Street, the Castle Street underpass, Aberafan Shopping Centre, the Seaside Social and Labour Club, its adjacent car park, Abbeyville Court and Station Road, the spectator became actor as each was reunited with his or her neighbours in collective memory. Physical presence, listening and acknowledgement facilitated regeneration. 3 Aaron L (2011) Michael Sheen in “The Passion” [Online] [Retrieved 28 July 2014] Available from 10
  22. 22. Beyond the narrative, however, the play and Owen Sheer’s novelisation introduced a number of key conversational threads about the impact of a high profile, community event on a town such as Port Talbot, dense in population and networked by geography, employment, family and tradition, and new, technologically mediated social networks. In the days leading up to the performance, Michael Sheen’s character of the Teacher, estranged from the mother of his child, burned-out by the stress of the everyday, flees to the mountains overlooking Port Talbot. The lost and found footage of the Teacher’s ‘40 day’ disappearance emulates, of course, Jesus’s isolation in the wilderness. The experiences of the Teacher, similarly, echo transcendentalist Henry Thoreau’s Walden of 1854, in which he undertook a personal challenge of self-reliance and independence on Walden Pond: I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived (Thoreau, 1854, p. 90). The teacher’s only exposure to technology is the hand-held camera on which he records a video diary. During the twenty-minute montage of diary entries we witness his metamorphosis from lost and desperate: “I can’t go on. I’ve just been sitting here in the car for hours. I don’t know what to do… I’m so tired…” to focused and clear- thinking: “I see you” (The Gospel of Us, 2012, transcribed by T Preece). The Teacher’s video-diary entries document a growing awareness of his natural surroundings and the distraction of the town from the natural ambiance of the mountain. Healed by the quietude and having reflected on his own emotional injuries against the backdrop of the physical scars of Port Talbot, the Teacher returns to the town, his story recounted in The Gospel of Us by a witness narrator, where he facilitates the residents in sharing their own stories and gain in confidence in confronting the Company Man, an otherwise nameless representative of the town’s main developers, ICU. The introduction of the Company Man by the town’s Mayor initiates discourse regarding the distance that exists between corporate capitalism and the anonymous victims affected by dispassionate corporate decisions:
  23. 23. Fig. 4 The Trial of the Teacher by The Company Man4 The closest people like the Company Man usually ever get to us is when they drive over the Passover, when a few wisps of smoke from our fires might brush against their tyres or whiff in through the fans on their dashboards (Sheers, 2012, p. 23). The address of the Mayor and the Company Man takes place outside Port Talbot’s Aberafan Shopping Centre, during which representatives of a Resistance, including terrorist Barry Absolom, who is later involved in the trial of the Teacher, push forward Joanne, a woman strapped with explosives, and threaten detonation in protest of the further development of the town and dehumanization of its inhabitants as commodities and statistics: She’s a person… Not just a figure in your spreadsheets. Not just a gradient in one of your graphs…An innocent person in the hands of someone else, someone with their hands on the detonator… What I’m doing is no more than you do every day. Because you’ve got us by the throats haven’t you? You Company men have got us by the throats haven’t you? You Company men have got your teeth deep in our throats, bleeding us working men dry… We’ll still die from the wounds you’ve left in us, just quicker, that’s all (Sheers, 2012, pp. 37– 38). 4 BBC (2011) The Teacher meets with The Company Man – Still from Michael Sheen's Port Talbot Passion play “crucifixion” [Online] [Retrieved 28 July 2014] Available from athena.jpg 12
  24. 24. Barry Absolom’s words acknowledge the impact of the development, not just on the physical landscape but on the people as individuals and as a collective. In the spirit of capitalism, however, the message of need from the “false council” is one of progression and transformation that surpasses the understanding of the masses, “We’ve said all along we’re committed to bringing the best out of this town… The sooner we can get people moving, the better” (Sheers, 2012 p. 38, pp. 46 – 47). The distancing of the proletariat from the true nature of their circumstances and their perceived inability to identify the industrial progress as a form of “sacrifice” is further explained by the Company Man: It won’t help them to learn the truth. Look, do you think a man wants to be told that he’s worth more dead than alive? Well, this town is worth more empty than with people in it… We know there are huge untapped resources beneath this town. That’s the truth (Sheers, 2012, p. 47). This dialogue highlights the transformative power of speed, in terms of distorting and distancing Port Talbot from the traveller as they bypass the town that facilitates their journey, but also the increase in velocity as individuals are propelled forward beyond the natural progression of their life’s journey from the familial home: “Holding onto this place is just going to make it harder for them in the long run” (Sheers, 2012 p. 47).The objective of the Company men is progress, “a great new road that will lead this town into a glorious future. A road that will increase the speed of transport links in this area by over sixty percent” (Sheers, 2012 p. 51). This ‘Passover’ operates as the opportunity for Exodus from the slavery of the present: freedom from being passed-over by opportunity and progress: Every age has its enemies of progress. And in every age these people have eventually been defeated… This is a town ready for change. This is a town ready to embrace a bold new vision… Hope for a better future for all of us. We all know though, that however high we might hoist its sail, Hope will only ever take us so far without the winds of hard work and sacrifice to drive it (Sheers, 2012, p. 50). The “sacrifice” which offers “work, it will bring jobs and it will bring investment,” is that “those living in the path of the Passover will have the opportunity to leave their own homes and move into new dwellings, purpose-built by the Company” (Sheers, 2012, p. 51): the enforced migration from the familial past to a future constructed by the capitalist corporation as determined by the Company.
  25. 25. The character of the Teacher serves to expose the dangers of moving forward without taking the care to listen to and acknowledge the past. Within the context of the play, the construction and dissemination of the personal narrative enables the individual and community to move forward: “listening had been enough. How it did something. How people came out of that house lighter, like a weight’d been taken off them. Like they’d been healed” (Sheers, 2012, p. 70). In psychoanalytical terms, the process of the narrative facilitates self-realisation and the internalization of experience from which one might grow. Furthermore, the time afforded by the listener in being heard reminds the narrator that they and their experiences have value: “and the dead shall live and the living shall be heard and the heard shall be freed and the freer shall be dead” (Sheers, 2012). The act of listening offers others the opportunity to grow and learn: the Teacher, in his primitive state after his rebirth on Aberavon Beach is “starving for stories, for voices” (Sheers, 2012, p. 69). It transpires that Port Talbot is a town that has a surfeit of stories which are longing to be heard: “It sounded more like a droning than a conversation, like the ebb and flow of a hive… There wasn’t any kind of healing happening over by those graveyards. Just hurting” (Sheers, 2012, p. 71). Prior to the Teacher’s self-sacrifice, individuals within the community lack direction and technology has rendered experience insignificant and non-differential; the narrator describes himself at the start of the novel as, “The kid who’s half kid, half man. Who’s stuck” (Sheers, 2012, p. 13). The Teacher, himself, on arrival on the beach is like a lost child who is unable to recognise his own mother. Through the consumption of the stories of others, however, he follow the developmental journey to adulthood; though adolescence (“I’m with my friends. I can’t leave them” to an encounter with his father as God who guides the Teacher to surrender to self- sacrifice) to maturation: he is able to walk “with direction, and there was a light in his eye” (Sheers, 2012, p. 101; p. 69). Within the context of this thesis, The Passion of Port Talbot is useful in that it highlights a number of key themes that I recognise as relevant to the subject of a new emerging online lifeworld of adolescence and its relationship to the complex behaviours of self-harm and suicide. I choose to use this term, which originates from the German term Lebenswelt, as it implies the innate relatedness of young people as they interact online. Firstly, within the context of the growing ubiquity of 14
  26. 26. technologically-mediated communication, well-being and personal guidance provision for young people is being replaced by virtual equivalents. The town of Port Talbot may be viewed as a microcosm of this universal shift in which human interaction on a micro level, such as the relationship between neighbours on the fractured Llewellyn Street is destroyed in the attempt to facilitate connectivity on a broader scale. The activity of the Company Men in prioritising and promoting corporate capitalization before the needs of the town’s inhabitants, therefore, may be said to illustrate the impact on individuals and their small communities of global capitalism. Furthermore, Michael Sheen’s portrayal of the Teacher and the nature of his therapeutic interactions with the townspeople provide a useful perspective by which one might consider the nature of the interventions that were put into place in Bridgend following a number of suicides incidents. Considered within a macro-level context, however, the Passion Play for Port Talbot represents a theatrical halt in the day to day proceedings within the town, one that closed businesses, stopped traffic and invited individuals out of their homes to reunite with their neighbours and reclaim the physical space of their town. Described in the critical reviews and reflections that followed the production as “epic”, The Passion of Port Talbot may be described as Epic Theatre as devised by poet, playwright and director Bertolt Brecht who advocated the notion of the creation of theatre for the facilitation of social change. At various junctures during this thesis I make reference to two versions of the play Spring Awakening, the original text by Frank Wedekind, published in Germany in 1891 and the rock opera of the same name, written by Steven Satar with music by Duncan Sheik which opened on Broadway in 2006. Wedekind’s original play, also known by the subtitle A Children’s Tragedy tells the story of a group of adolescents, endeavouring to navigate puberty and desire against the context of repressive parenting, schooling and Christianity. The play, which has been banned and censored on several occasions contains the controversial themes of teenage sexuality and sexual behaviour, abortion, sexual abuse and suicide. In A Short Organum for the Theatre, Brecht outlines what he determined as the purpose of theatre for the emerging society of “children of a scientific age. Our life as human being in society… is determined by the sciences to quite a new extent”
  27. 27. (Brecht, 1949/1957, p. 183). In the Marxist tradition, however, Brecht outlines that only a few within society – the bourgeoisie – benefit from the exploitation of these new sciences, “and they do so only because they exploit men” (Brecht, 1957, p. 184). Within the socially polarising context of capitalism, Brecht considers, “If we want now to surrender ourselves to this great passion for producing what ought our representations of men’s life together to look like?” suggesting that theatre has the ability to serve as “apparatus of education and mass communication” to highlight issues of social inequality and stimulate social change (Brecht, 1949/1957, pp. 185– 6): We need a type of theatre which not only releases the feelings, insights and impulses possible within the particular historical field of human relations in which the action takes place, but employs and encourages those thoughts and feelings which help transform the field itself (Brecht, 1949/1957, p. 190). Through the application of theatrical techniques to include music, montage and the use of stark narratives devices such as placards to create what Brecht terms the Verfremdungseffekt or defamiliarization effect, Epic Theatre reminds the spectator that the performance is representation rather than reality. Thus Brecht advocates the ability of theatre to transform the passive audience member into an observer/spectator who is astonished and aroused by curiosity into participating in social change. Fig. 5 An example of the use of placards in Brechtian theatre5 Brecht’s Epic Theatre may be considered to be an example of détournement as urged by Guy Debord in his collection of theses 5 Bertolt Brecht’s – “Fear And Misery Of The Third Reich” (2013) [Online] [Retrieved 30 September 2014) Available from third-reich/ 16
  28. 28. of 1967, The Society of the Spectacle, a technique initially devised by the Parisian collective of artists and theorists, Letterist International (LI) and adapted by the Situationalist International (SI) and defined in the inaugural journal of the SI as the " integration of present or past artistic productions into a superior construction of a milieu” (1958). In the creation of a passion play for Port Talbot, Sheen drew on the Christian tradition of the dramatic depiction of the Passion of Jesus Christ, his trial, suffering and death. Although secularized forms have been performed since the 15th century, Sheen’s depiction of the contemporary concerns of terrorism and global capitalism juxtaposed with the personal concerns of the community members unified Port Talbot as well as promoting and elevating the reputation of the town. In the concluding thesis of The Society of the Spectacle Debord calls for “emancipation from the material bases of inverted truth”, as “the historical mission of installing truth in the world” as just response to the displacement of existence to the virtual by capitalist values (Debord, 1967, Thesis 221). Debord moves beyond the critique of commodity fetishism of Karl Marx, Georg Lukács and, contemporary of Brecht, Walter Benjamin from Being and Having to Having and Appearing. With similarities to the thinking of Jean Baudrillard and Henri Lefebvre, Debord recognises in society the significance of the image as “everything that was directly lived has moved into a representation” (Debord, 1967, Thesis 1). Furthermore, writing in the 1960s, Debord identifies that in a capitalist society of increasing secularism, the spectacle of images is not “ a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images” (Debord, 1967, Thesis 4). This “autonomous movement of the non-living” represents for Debord the endgame of corporate capitalism as the “empire of modern passivity” which “bathes endlessly in its own glory”. Port Talbot, as portrayed in The Passion, is under the tyranny of the corporation – ICU (I See You) – and as a community, therefore, has been reduced to the commodity of Debord’s Spectacle. As an example of détournement, The Passion subverts both the historical origins and form of the dramatic tradition, as well as Marxist hegemony as described by Debord: In lieu of religious unification through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, Sheen and Sheer’s placing of a teacher as the instrument of redemption represents a return to the reverence of qualities that are innately human – father, son, friend, citizen, educator – and, as an estranged
  29. 29. husband, innately imperfect. As a flawed man, however, the character of the Teacher lacks super human abilities and yet, in the minutiae of his very existence, his brief, incidental interactions with other flawed people, in which he is able to offer nothing other than the ability to listen and bear witness, he facilitates healing. As a subversion of the Spectacle, the Teacher shifts the emphasis away from the ideologies of the Company Man who presents his drive to the technological as “positive, indisputable and inaccessible” (Debord, 1967, Thesis 12) to ground-level. The Teacher’s actions and interactions divert the attention of the masses from the image of capitalist priority with its talk of inevitability and impetus back to the concerns and the condition of the human. By way of détournement, therefore, the play is the “instrument of unification” and its events, “the real world changes into simple image, the simple images become real beings” (Debord, 1967, Thesis 18). The impact of the production for Port Talbot may also be viewed as the Lacanian symbolization of the trauma of the town and in the healing of its hurting; The Passion of Port Talbot may be considered an analogy for the psychoanalytic process in which the traumatised townspeople as examples of the analysand bring to the Teacher their stories and memories and through free association and the telling of their stories are liberated. Lacan identifies as the Real the innate state of need that exists only in the embodiment of the young baby. The pre-linguistic, pre-mirror stage infant in their secure identification with the mother and the exterior world experiences only need, not the more complex state of demand that Lacan identifies post-mirror stage and through the acquisition of language. It is language and the transition into the world of the Symbolic, Lacan identifies, that is the cause of seperateness from the Mother as the origins of the Big Other. During the mirror stage the infant first experiences anxiety at the realisation of an existence of seperateness from the mother and the wider world. Just as Michael Sheen’s Teacher is unable to recognise his mother in the passion play, the child misrecognises and rejects the reflection of their imperfect body and, by way of compensating for the felt sense of loss, identifies with the fantasy image of the self as recognised in others, narcissistic relationships which Lacan recognises as continuing into adulthood. Lacan describes that this pre-linguistic Real can exist only in the eruption of the Symbolic by an event such as the trauma of a natural disaster. In the construction of 18
  30. 30. theatre with the exposition of the threat of terrorism and the Company man which, against the parochial context of Port Talbot may be considered hyperreal, Sheen and Sheers may be said to have created, similarly to the concept of Debord’s détournement, “a cut in the Real” in which that which is alien interrupts the signification of the every day. Michael Sheen’s observations in interview with The Guardian regarding the presence and significance of the mobile telephone may, therefore, be said to be representative of the developing role of technology within the role of the Lacanian Big Other. In the traditional context of theatre, the audience members of The Passion are the Big Other, the third component of the Symbolic Order who bears witness to the events. The Big Other, Lacan identifies, is truly virtual in nature in that it exists “only in so far as the subject acts like it exists” (Zizek, 2006, p. 10. Italics in original). Slavoj Zizek compares the existence of the concept to that of the ideological cause such as a religion or political affinity, with the Big Other providing the context and framework so as to provide “the ultimate horizon of meaning” (Zizek, 2006, p. 10). In terms of a psychoanalytic perspective, the audience is witness to the therapeutic process that takes place between the Teacher as analyst and Joanne as analysand. The mobile telephone that Sheen noted first as buffering and later as framing and illuminating the performance exemplifies a new significance for social media devices in contemporary society as audience members chose to witness the events through the viewfinder of their cameras and smartphones. The significance of the social media involvement may be said to have operated on a number of distinct levels: firstly, the physical impact of the technology distorted the performance in terms of lighting and sound. Also, viewed through social media apparatus, the audience member accessed an inauthentic copy of the event and was distanced, physically and emotionally from the performance. Furthermore, should the audience member have chosen to upload their recorded images and videos of the play, their recording of the play and the underlying motives of the individual take on a performative quality as their participation in the event as witness becomes an aspect of identity play. Thus within the context of new media use, The Passion of Port Talbot may be said to demonstrate that the potentiality for bearing witness to the narrative of others so as to facilitate healing, through the informal interaction of story-telling and listening, has
  31. 31. been appropriated by new media use; symbolic language of others becomes the vehicle by which one is able to fulfil one’s own narcissistic demands and attract the gaze for oneself. 1.3 The Bridgend Suicide Incidents In September 2008 I moved to South Wales to take up a health education post in a comprehensive school in Bridgend, approximately 16 miles south east of Port Talbot. In terms of technological advancement in the lives of young people, 2008 was a significant year, with Facebook reaching 100 million registered users and the introduction of three of the website’s features that were to shape the social media use of young people: the interface of the current Facebook beta, the Facebook application or app for iPhone and Facebook chat, which replaced the popular MSN messenger. In 2008, John Palfrey and Urs Gasser described the emerging generation of social media users: “These kids are different. They study, work, write and interact with each other in ways that are very different from the ways you did growing up” (Palfrey and Gasser, 2008, p. 2). By 2008, I had been employed as a comprehensive school teacher for seven years and had taught in, including my placement during my PGCE training and my new school in Bridgend, five different educational establishments. Rather than being different, however, I found the young people around Cardiff where I trained, the South East of England where I began my teaching career, across the South West of England, back and to South Wales, very similar in terms of priorities and concerns, regardless of their mode of study, work, writing and interaction. In March 2008, however, child psychologist Dr Tanya Byron published the findings of The Byron Review, commissioned by the then Labour government into young people’s use of technology which stated that there existed a generational usage and knowledge gap between young people and their parents, guardians and teachers. From the significance of a local perspective, however, 2008 marks the mid-point in a spate of deaths by suicide that took place in Bridgend between 2007 and 2009, referred to as The Bridgend Suicides Incidents. Twenty five young people, the majority of whom were aged 13 to 17 years old, died by suicide between January 2007 and February 2009 (Cadwalldr, 2009). This is compared to an average of three 20
  32. 32. deaths by suicide each year in the ten years prior to the publicised suicide incidents. The nine deaths that took place in 2007 represent a threefold increase in comparison to the average of three deaths by suicide that took place each year in Bridgend between 1996 and 2006 (National Public Health Service for Wales, 2008, p. 4). The briefing document identifies, as illustrated in Table 1, that Wales has a higher average of deaths by suicide of young men than the UK average: “Three LHBs have rates of suicide among males aged 15-24 that exceed the Welsh average to a level considered statistically significant. These are Denbighshire, Neath Port Talbot [the county borough in which Port Talbot is situated] and Bridgend” (National Public Health Service for Wales, 2008, p. 20). Age specific suicide rates, males Wales 1996-2006 Source: Annual District Death Extract (ADDE), ONS 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 15-19 20-24 25-29 30-34 35-39 40-44 45-49 50-54 55-59 60-64 65-69 70-74 75-79 80-84 85+ Age band rateper100,000 Table 1 Age specific suicide rates in Wales, males Prior to my arrival at my new school in Bridgend I had little knowledge of the subjects of self-injury and suicide. I had attended as a student a very diverse comprehensive school in the West Midlands where problematic behaviours included fighting, substance misuse and eating disorders, but I do not have any clear memories of my classmates self-harming, expressing suicidal ideation or of any related discussion. In retrospect, however, I recollect the girl with whom I shared a desk in one subject carving letters into her hands and filling the wounds with ink to create tattoos, a behaviour which I now recognise as self-injurious. In my first year of teaching I recall concerned friends of a sixth form student informing me that she had cut her wrists. Panicked in my inexperience, I accompanied the girl to the office of a
  33. 33. senior staff member and told him what she had done. My colleague confronted the girl and demanded she pull up her wrists to reveal fresh red slices across her lower arms. In response to our clumsiness, she fled from the school premises; I did not see her again and my colleague and I did not discuss it. The deaths in Bridgend attracted global interest and the national and international press were quick to implicate social media in triggering and linking the young people’s actions through an online suicide pact via social media forum, Bebo. This theory, and the press’s involvement in its perpetuation, was, however, strongly refuted in the subsequent press enquiry that took place in 2011, and later by the Leveson Inquiry in November 2011. In the outright rejection of the implication of social media, however, I felt that there existed a missed opportunity to examine the role of technology in the lives of young people and, in the case of a significant number of the young people who died by suicide in Bridgend, their deaths also: the events that took place included missed text messages and telephone calls, postings on profile and memorial pages and, in a number of instances, the asphyxiation involved the use of console cables. Whilst social media may not have initiated the fatal actions of the young people, their technological paraphernalia had certainly served as actor in the events that took place. The tipping-point for me, however, came after the death of a member of the school community. In line with local authority protocol, we were as staff instructed neither to confirm nor to deny the news despite the frequent questions of students. As the day progressed, a number of friends of the deceased congregated in my classroom; they sat in silence, all of them in tears and clutching their smartphones and Blackberry handsets which flashed and beeped as the children circulated snippets of information, RIP messages and poems. In lieu of adults taking the lead in terms of framing these events, the children were turning to one another for support and comfort. Their retreat to the technological may be viewed as evidence of Palfrey and Gasser’s construction of the difference of young people; to do so, however, is to miss the point. There is the possibility, of course, that a number of individuals would have turned to technology rather than or as well as liaising with staff. However, that was not my subjective experience on that difficult day: I observed young people repeatedly requesting input from adults who, I believe, were not permitted to meet their cognitive and emotional needs. Social media had thus afforded the children a 22
  34. 34. degree of connectivity and support, but I recognise that as being in place of rather than instead of human interaction. In order to meet the demands of my health education role in this Bridgend school, which required me to support the friends and family of the young people who had died by suicide, as well as the needs of the young people who were themselves self- injuring or experiencing suicidal ideation, needed to learn quickly. However, as I will go on to explain in Chapter Two, the training and resources available did not reflect the new context for self-harm and suicide with which I found myself faced. The same may be said of the training and resources pertaining to adolescent new media use which appeared to focus on adult priorities and perceptions rather than the construction of the young people with whom I began to work. Overwhelmingly, however, I was faced with the need of the young people to share and connect; their own stories, their friends’ stories, their families’ stories. Yet so many of the children’s services were being cut in terms of funding or replaced with their virtual equivalents such as, within Bridgend, the creation of the Choose Life website by a number of the siblings of the bereaved in conjunction with the local authority educational psychology service. The Passion of Port Talbot demonstrates that the will to the virtual is based on the notion that the technologized is more efficient and economical than the human experience: that bodies and voices and relationships are more cost-effective when economized and commoditized. Furthermore, the determination of ICU to mobilise the people of Port Talbot and accelerate their day-to-day lives is representative of a globalisation which distorts perception to realise hyperreal equivalents of education, family and relationships. Michael Sheen and Owen Sheer’s Teacher, however, embodies a call to return to the physical and humanized, of leading others through pain through openness and acknowledgement. Before the Teacher’s facilitation of the townspeople’s healing, grieving individuals are emotionally “half kid, half man…. stuck”, infantilised adults and adultified children, blindly endeavouring to parent one another without the guidance or leadership of an experienced other. As a teacher, The Passion of Port Talbot reminded me of the privileged position of the role to create opportunities for listening, learning and self-discovery. I recognised
  35. 35. within the community a situation in which erroneous resources were being used to address the misapprehended needs of young people due to a lack of understanding of the adolescent social media context. This misapprehension I identified as a knowledge gap between adult objective understanding and young people’s subjective experience and an imperative need for research in this area so as to address this gap. Pauline V. Young defines social research as follows: …as a scientific undertaking which, by means of logical and systematized techniques aims to: (1) Discover new facts or verify and test old facts; (2) Analyse their sequences, inter-relationships, and causal explanations which are derived within an appropriate theoretical frame of reference; (3) Develop new scientific tools, concepts and theories which would facilitate reliable and valid study of human behaviours (Young, 1960, p. 30). As will be discussed in further detail in the methods chapter of this thesis, the events that took place in Bridgend are significant, bearing the characteristics of outlier, key and local knowledge case study. In the thesis that follows, therefore, I endeavour to create a space in which young people talk about the significance of social media in their lives, in the attempt to identify the compelling themes which may better inform the ways in which they may be more effectively guided by parents and professionals. In doing so I will attempt, as Young advises, to verify and test old facts about the way in which young people utilise and experience social media. I will attempt to identify social media use amongst young people aged 15-24 in terms of sequences, inter-relationships, and causal explanations within the Bridgend locality. In doing so, I aim to develop new tools, concepts and theories that will facilitate improved access to and awareness of young people’s experiences so as to better inform legislative and policy reform as well as the strategies and resources that directly impact on the child, particularly the most vulnerable. 24
  36. 36. Chapter Two - Self-Harm, Suicide and Psychoanalysis 2.1 Interventions and Approaches: Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) and Student Assistance Programme (SAP) There is still no agreed on strategy for intervening in the life and death decision of the suicidal mind or for treating the suicidal character (Berman et al 2006, p. 7). In this section I will provide an overview of a number of the therapeutic interventions that were provided to bereaved young people or those who were perceived as being at-risk subsequent to the number of deaths by suicide that took place in Bridgend. As I will describe, these interventions which came under the umbrella initiative of Siaradwni Ni or “Let’s Talk”, focus on modelling and developing the skills needed for talking and listening, themes that have much in common with the traditional psychoanalytic model. Following a brief definition of psychoanalysis I will, therefore, consider ASIST and SAP in psychoanalytical terms. Next I will summarise Erikson’s psycho-social model of identify formation. Subsequently, I will outline a number of contemporary views of self-harm, suicide and risk-taking behaviours. Finally I will review the literature regarding social media use and its role within these behaviours. In May 2008, one million pounds was awarded to Mental Health Services within the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University NHS Trust in an attempt to support training and public health promotion regarding mental health issues (Big Lottery Fund, 2008). The funding enabled a number of community events and initiatives to take place under Siaradwni Ni, including the training of individuals across educational, health and social care settings. The project aimed: to develop a broader and improved base of individuals in the community who are better at identifying mental health issues and needs within family and other members of their community. This will help identify a situation before it deteriorates and enable people to encourage an individual to seek appropriate support (Big Lottery Fund, 2008). The training model that was selected to enable the development of this base of individuals is Applied Suicide Interventional Skills Training (ASIST), a Canadian framework developed by LivingWorks education that supports care-givers in recognising individuals at risk of suicidal behaviour, guiding the suicidal individual
  37. 37. towards ambivalence before disabling any plans of suicidal intent and supporting longer-term care and support (2007). Similarly, in July 2008 the Programme (SAP) was introduced into schools within the Bridgend authority by the Children’s Directorate Work Programme in an attempt to support successful transition between schools and key stages (KS) as well as implementing “a comprehensive prevention and early intervention programme for all students exhibiting high-risk behaviours which can be interfering with a student’s education and life development” (Children’s Directorate Work Programme, 2008). SAP and Advanced SAP were developed in the United States of America by director Cheryl Watkins. It was first introduced in the United Kingdom in 2003 in Wrexham, North Wales. Training for professionals, predominantly primary and secondary school teachers, took place in Bridgend in September 2008. SAP Trained professionals are able to facilitate weekly support groups of approximately seven weeks in duration. Group members may be selected, referred or may self-refer but may be categorised as one or more of the following sub-groups of need: Concerned Persons who may be living within an alcohol or drug-dependent family; Substance misusers; Individuals who would benefit from support regarding “personal growth,” and Individuals who wish to remain alcohol or drug-free having attained sobriety (SAP, Program Success, 2013). 2.2. An Overview of Psychoanalysis Psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic therapeutic therapy were first developed as theory by the Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Freudian psychoanalysis is based on the belief that the human personality, besides the innate temperament of the individual, is determined by the significant life events that take place during early childhood. Consequential problematic behaviours such as neurosis, anxiety or depression are as a result of conflict between conscious and repressed material. Responses are irrational and unconscious. Pathological defences may be made conscious and thus the ‘analysand’ or patient, freed of their emotional and physical responses with the guidance of a psychoanalyst who encourages the sharing of dreams and fantasies as well as free association. The therapist may then attempt to interpret or unlock the analysand’s ideas to enable insight and resolution. 26
  38. 38. Freudian psychoanalysis is typified by a theory of the mind based on three distinct psychic apparatuses: the id, the ego and the super-ego (Freud, 1923). The id may be described as the basic, primitive structure, present from birth and operating according to the “pleasure principle” to achieve instant gratification. Described by Freud as, “the dark, inaccessible part of our personality” which exists as “the great reservoir of libido” or drive to create, but also “the death drive”, “an instinct of destruction directed against the external world and other organisms” (Freud, 1920, p. 18; p. 51) The ego, according to Freud, operates according to the “reality principle” and “attempts to mediate between id and reality” (Schacter and Wegner, 2011, p. 1).The super-ego is the external, learned voice of authority, the internalization of experience of cultural regulation and criticism. It is the role of the ego to reconcile the inherent drives of the id with the regulatory voice of the super-ego: Thus the ego, driven by the id, confined by the super-ego, repulsed by reality, struggles ... [in] bringing about harmony among the forces and influences working in and upon it (Freud, 1933, pp. 10–11) and breaks out in anxiety — realistic anxiety regarding the external world, moral anxiety regarding the super-ego, and neurotic anxiety regarding the strength of the passions in the id. Freud, (1933, pp. 110–11) The ego in conflict may respond, according to Freud, by the process of “splitting”; that is to say, the rational ego effects “a cleavage or division of itself” so as “to avoid a rupture” (Freud, 1938, pp. 271–278). Building on the splitting theory of Pierre Janet (1889), Freud developed a concept from the oscillation of “psychical complexes which become conscious and unconscious in turn” to “repression” and finally to one of ambivalence: "by splitting the contradictory feelings so that one person is only loved, another one only hated” (Fenichel, 1987, pp. 53– 54). This concept was later developed by Freud’s daughter, Anna, and the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein (1946), who developed a theory of the paranoid-schizoid position in which feelings are polarized between extreme experiences of love and hate. Through the gradual realisation that an object can be inherently good and bad simultaneously, there takes place the gradual, though painful, acceptance of the co-existence of ambivalent feelings. The splitting of the object within her object-relations theory is, for Klein, a reflection only of the splitting within the ego by way of an active defence mechanism in response to internal conflict.
  39. 39. Jacques Lacan (1936) suggests that the gaze, during the mirror stage of development which he initially proposed as occurring between six and 18 months of age, signifies a more complex stage of ego formation. During this phase, which Lacan later evolved in terms of theory to represent a permanent construction of subjectivity, the child recognises that, in their distinctness of their body, they are able to be viewed by others and, in their fractured body of unequal maturity, they are an object in the gaze of others. In this new knowledge, the body requires to “stand as the cause of desire” (Lacan, 1936, pp. 74–75); as Lemma describes “We are dependent on the other’s desire for us” (Lemma, 2010, p. 26). Freud asserts that narcissism is a healthy state of the human condition, achieved through the unconditional love and attention of the mother. Failure for the child to develop this aspect of the self through trauma or neglect, leads, for Freud, to a “fractured self-esteem, paranoiac or overly-developed; an imbalance that he or she will seek to address though negative behaviours: “What man projects before him is the substitute for the lost narcissism of his childhood” (Freud, 1914, p. 94). Lemma, with reference to her study of the psychoanalysis of body modification describes the impact of the broken dyadic relationship between the mother and child as the following: If the mother-mirror is absent or hostile in her relationship to the baby’s body, the individual will later most likely search for the loving gaze in whatever mirrors are available (Lemma, 2010, p. 38). The outcome of this fragmented relationship continuing into adolescence and adulthood, “we never grow out of the search for the (m)other’s loving and desiring gaze” (Lemma, 2010, p. 38). Lemma continues to describe this dynamic with reference to the creation of Frankenstein’s monster and the impact of the rejection of his creator, Dr Frankenstein. This analogy is particularly useful due to the, literally, fragmented nature of the monster; the rejection of his monster and the expression of horror from his father reaffirms the monster’s innate feelings of inadequacy and ugliness: “The creature longs to be recognised by his creator, but the gaze of the other invariably confirms his ugliness and rejection” (Lemma, 2010, p. 45). Furthermore, it may be said that Frankenstein’s monster’s audacity in attempting to attract the parental gaze stimulates and perpetuates the wrath of his father, who 28
  40. 40. rejects his projection: “The novel (Frankenstein) details how the others’ projections, and the inevitable deprivation, as inscribed by the body, can then incite envy and violence in the one who is thus projected into” (Lemma, 2010, p. 43). The anger of his projection serves as an amputation between parents and child, thus initiating the child to attempt to attract the gaze of an other: “The idealisation and inevitable denigration painful to witness as he rejects his creation that is never anything more that an appendage that can be dispensed with” (Lemma, 2010, p. 45). Lemma’s example of Frankenstein’s monster similarly serves to exemplify that between the subject of the gaze and the object, there exists a delicate but significant power balance, as the subject attempts to attract the attention without compromising their own desirability. John Berger outlines the complex interplay between the viewer and the viewed, identifying that the pursuit of the attraction of others is paradoxical and, perhaps infinite, as one is unable to compromise the self: Being envied is a solitary form of reassurance. It depends precisely upon not sharing your experience with those who envy you. You are observed with interest but you do not observe with interest – if you do, you will become less enviable (Berger et al., 1972, p. 133). Within the contemporary context of the capitalist and virtual capital, it may be said that the gaze adopts an even greater and yet fruitless significance. Whilst individuals such as Michel Foucault recognise that the gaze serves an integral role with regards to systems of power such as in medical settings or with regards to surveillance and punishment. The increasing significance on the shifting aesthetic of desirability and self-definition through consumption accelerates the imperative for desirability but, additionally, the relentless and unsurmountable task of the quest to attain desirability. John Berger (1972), as will be discussed with reference to Arthur Kroker in Chapter Three, recognises this modern phenomenon as the exploitation of one’s innate need for approval: Capitalism survives by forcing the majority, whom it exploits, to define their own interests as narrowly as possible. This was once achieved by extensive deprivation. Today in developed countries it is being achieved by imposing a false standard of what is and what is not desirable (Berger, 1972, p. 154). This Big Other, the approval of which or whom each individual, Lacan claims, strives to please, exists only to the extent that the subject acts as if it exists (Zizek,
  41. 41. 2006, p. 10) although in the case of those for whom the Big Other is real it provides, Zizek claims, the “ultimate horizon of [their] meaning” such as religion politics or an ideological cause (Zizek, 2006, p. 10). Kristeva, like Freud, recognises the Other as the displacement of the primal need for the affection of the mother - “perhaps because of maternal anguish” into abjected horror (1982, p. 12). Kristeva describes how the primitive sense of abjection is experienced in response to the identification of the Other in place of “what will be ‘me’”; that is to say, the recognition of the rejection of the self: “The abject has only one quality of the object—that of being opposed to I” (1982, p. 1). Like the Lacanian Big Other, the Other that Kristeva describes “precedes and possesses me” but may be kept “under control” through the “sublimation” of distraction of that which affects; the “naming of the pre-nominal” of the elicitation of the feeling that which is most primal and imitative of the affection of the mother (1982, pp. 10–11). On the second day of The Passion of Port Talbot, The Teacher is visited at a house on Llewellyn Street by townspeople who, having witnessed the healing of Joanne on Aberavon Beach on the previous day, wish to tell him their own stories: It all came back to us like Chinese whispers, running through the crowd like voltage. How the Teacher had sat down and taken a cup of tea with the old woman who owned the house. How she’d told him her stories and then how everyone else did too. A blind boy. A mute girl, tapping out her tale for him on the arm of the wheelchair. How all he’d done was sit and listen, nothing else, and how, somehow, that listening had been enough. How it did something. How people came out of that house lighter, like a weight’d been taken off them. Like they’d been healed (Sheers, 2012, pp. 69– 70). “Suicide,” assert LivingWorks, the training provider behind ASIST, “is a community health problem” (Livingworks, 2007). Both the ASIST and SAP framework are dependent on the sharing of personal stories and experiences in person in an attempt to self-identify areas of concern and achieve resolution. The one-to-one conversation that takes place during an ASIST intervention and SAP’s philosophy of allowing each of the group’s participants to speak without interjection or response are based on the principles of facilitating self-revelation and subsequent self-healing. In psychoanalytic terms, ASIST encourages the sharing of ideas of free association with the assertion, “let’s talk”. That message regards the disclosure of thoughts of suicide as a potential ‘new beginning’” (LivingWorks Education, 2007, p. 2). The 30
  42. 42. intervention thus takes place within the context of the “relationship” between care- giver and suicidal person and the “help-seeking is encouraged by open, direct and honest talk” (LivingWorks Education, 2007, p. 1). Similarly, talk is the key principle of healing that underlies the SAP model of support. Participant evaluation revealed that the experience of group attendance “helped me to talk through and get over memories that were hurting me…” (Year 7 student [aged 11-12 years old], Westgate SAP, Winchester, UK, 2006). Trained teacher-facilitators stated “It is our goal to provide young people with opportunities to explore their own thoughts and feelings” (France-American School of Paris) and observed that “the art of communicating… is more than just talking and responding to what is being said. It requires so much patience to understand the feelings behind what is being said. It was all about learning a message that is unspoken” (Pakistan Foundation School, Student Assistance Training International, Program Evaluations, retrieved June 2014). In the case of ASIST, a fundamental principle of the framework is that “all persons at risk actively invited help and retain within them the desire to live, even if they are no longer in touch with that life force. In other words, persons at risk are ambivalent about suicide” (Living Works Education, 2007, p. 2). Through talk the ASIST model intends to move the at-risk person to recognise their ambivalence as “persons at risk at suicide are the ones with the most interest in staying alive, even if they do not immediately recognise it. Once they recognise that they may want to live, their need to do something to protect life is immediate” (LivingWorks, 2007 p. 3). The suicidal person is presented as in conflict, split between the good repressed individual caught in a struggle to survive overcome by the bad self, determined to dominate. It is talk that enables the good to assert their will to live.
  43. 43. *** Psychiatric enlightenment has begun to debunk the superstition that to manage a machine you must become a machine, and that to raise masters of the machine you must mechanize the impulses of childhood. Erikson, 1950 In 1968 the developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik H Erikson defined a psycho-social model of what he called The Life Cycle that is still used in contemporary educational and clinical settings. Having himself undertaken psychoanalytic therapy and later studied psychoanalysis at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute and the Montessori method of education, Erikson developed a notion of human development in terms of a series of eight stages that must be overcome before successful transition to the next. Erikson is one of the initiatal developers of the concept of ego psychology, in which he recognised the ego as subservient to that of the Freudian concept of id, and stressed the significance of environmental factors in supporting appropriate self-esteem and self-awareness of the adolescent (Erikson, 1968, pp. 53–70. Erikson’s outline of psychosexual development was a departure from Freud’s classical model of five stages. Of Erikson’s theoretical stages, most relevant to this study is Erikson’s fifth stage of Adolescence, typified by the crisis between Identity and Identity Confusion. The existential questions which the adolescent endeavours to address consist of Who am I? and What can I be? (Erikson, 1968). Kristeva’s description of the neurotic has much in common with Erikson’s construction of the adolescent in crisis, but suggests that, as a “stray on a journey” the notable questions are “Where am I?” instead of “Who am I?” (Erikson, 1982, p. 8). The period of adolescence, which may be defined as the period between 12 and 19 years old, is a highly significant period of physical, emotional and social transformation, during which the infant body experiences a “revolution of their genital maturation and the uncertainty of the adult roles ahead” but also the transition from the influence and control of authority figures to that of the peer group. Interestingly, Erikson regards the preoccupation of identity formation and adolescent subculture as, “morbid[ly]”, activities of which the adolescent is, “mortally afraid”; 32
  44. 44. the outcomes seemingly, “final rather than transitory”, as if this period of crisis was fuelled by a Freudian Death Drive (Erikson, 1968, p. 128). In Wedekind’s Spring Awakening, the mother of the best friend of despairing adolescent Moritz Steifel, who writes to her for help, alluding to suicide having found himself expelled from school and facing the rejection of his parents, replies to his letter: “Such a crisis as this comes to all of us and will soon be surmounted. If all of us had recourse to dagger or poison in such cases, there would soon be no men left in the world” (Wedekind, II.v). Erikson cites an anecdote in which Freud was asked to define that which a normal person should be able to do well. Freud’s response was “Lieben und arbeiten”, “to love and to work” (Erikson, 1968, p. 136). For Erikson, for the adolescent to depart from infancy and achieve successful adulthood is dependent on the ability to “come to grips with crises of earlier years before they can install lasting idols and ideals as guardians of a final identity” (Erikson, 1968 p. 128). During this time, Erikson believes that society affords the adolescent a moratorium during which they may experiment with ideas and identities (Erikson, 1968, p. 128). Despite their departure from the values of authority figures, young people will seek out their own role- models, “men and ideas to have faith in” (Erikson, 1968, p. 129). The end goal of this experimentation and expression is the formation of an identity that is the adolescent’s own, but is unlikely to be significantly different in values from those of the key adults in their life. Should the space for creativity or supervision afforded to the young person during the period of crisis prove inadequate, however, the result for Erikson is delinquency, the young person “runs away in one form or another, dropping out of school, leaving jobs, staying out all night, or withdrawing into bizarre or inaccessible moods” (Erikson, 1968, p. 132). With echoes of McLuhan’s visionary descriptions of the role of social media, Erikson describes the significance of technology in the successful maturation of the teenager to an extent that is near-prophetic, both with regards to the displacement of many traditional manual professions to their mechanical equivalents, but also in terms of the emerging role of the technological in facilitating identity creation and play. It may be said that the contemporary adolescent is not granted sufficiently extensive opportunity to work or love. Erikson asserts that,
  45. 45. As technological advances put more and more time between early school life and the young person final access to specialized work, the stage of adolescing becomes an even more marked and conscious period” (Erikson, 1968, p. 128). Similarly also to McLuhan and Thrift’s positivist views of the advancement of technology by children, Erikson believes that the young person who “gifted and well trained in the pursuit of expanding technological trends, and thus able to identify with new roles of competency and innovation and to accept a more ideological outlook” is less likely to experience an adolescence that is “stormy” (Erikson, 1968, pp. 129–130). It may be said, however, that in the commodification of creative spaces, the adolescent is denied an authentic opportunity for personal experimentation. The virtual social media environment “tries to deprive him too radically of all the forms of expression which permit him to develop and integrate the next step” (Erikson, 1968, p. 130). 2.4 Self-Harm, Suicide and Adolescent Risk-Taking Behaviours The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) defines self-harm as “…self- poisoning or self-injury, irrespective of the apparent purpose of the act” (2004). This term which will be used throughout this study may be said to be more useful than a number of frequently used synonyms in that it is free of value and intention unlike its synonyms: deliberate or intentional self-harm, attempted suicide, parasuicide, non- fatal suicidal behaviour and self-inflicted violence. These labels are interesting because they help to illustrate a number of beliefs regarding self-harm; that to self- injure is a choice and to self-harm is a conscious decision over which self-harmers have control. Furthermore, the reference to suicide in a number of these terminologies demonstrates a complex, symbiotic relationship between self-harm and suicidal behaviour which is much misunderstood. A number of people who self-harm have no thoughts of suicide although some people who self-harm do have thoughts of suicide. Some people have thoughts of suicide despite the fact that they do not self-harm, yet some people who self-harm accidently cause their own death as a result of their injurious actions. Self-injury often, however, represents the prevention of a suicidal period and for some individuals is a survival strategy and a way of averting suicide. Thus self-injury is frequently the least possible amount of damage and represents extreme self-restraint. 34
  46. 46. Nevertheless, people who self-injure are statistically more likely to attempt to die by suicide (National Self-Harm Network, 1998). For the duration that the injury is being caused the actions of the self-harmer are intentional, defined by the Royal College of Psychiatrists as “…an expression of personal distress and where the person directly intends to injure him/herself” (2013). In carrying out an act of physical self-harm, the individual may perform a number of pain-inducing acts commonly including: cutting; burning oneself with heat using cigarettes, cigarette lighters or aerosols; burning oneself with salt and ice, also known as chicken-scratching; stabbing; self-poisoning; attempting to break limbs such as by jumping from heights; punching oneself or punching hard objects such as walls; swallowing objects, also known as pica; and sticking objects into oneself to cause reoccurring incidences of pain over a period of time such as positioning blades behind the eye-lids (Royal College Psychiatrists, 2013). Due to the often secretive nature of self-harming behaviours, it is challenging to identify its exact prevalence. People who carry out self-injurious acts often do not require or access health-care providers, seeking medical assistance only when pressured to do so by concerned others such as parents or guardians or if the outcome is more dangerous than they had anticipated (Hawton and Rodham, 2007). However, the evidence suggests that the incidence of self-harm in increasing: self-harm inpatient admissions have increased by 68% over the last ten years (Talking Taboos, 2012). In a school survey, included in By Their Own Young Hand, 13% of young people aged 15 or 16 reported having self-harmed at some time in their lives and 7% as having done so in the previous year (Hawton et al., 2002a). In 2011 hospital admissions for under 25s who had self-harmed increased by 10%. Among females under 25, there has been a 77% increase of deliberate self-injury in the last ten years (Talking Taboos, 2012). Despite the apparent increasing incidence of self-harm and the presentation of people with self-injuries at health-care settings, there remains a number of misconceptions about the motivations of those individuals who carry out these behaviours: Firstly, that people who self-harm enjoy pain, thus there exist incidents of patients being refused anaesthetic during the stitching of wounds; If an act is non-fatal or if the
  47. 47. individual tells someone what they have done or does not hide their wounds or scars then the behaviour is only acting-out or attention-seeking; There is a correlation between the severity of the wound and the depth of emotional pain experienced by the self-harmer (Taylor et al., 2009; SAMH Research Summary Report, 2012). There are currently three psychological perspectives which serve as models to consider the motivation of suicidal and self-injurious behaviour: the psychoanalytic, cognitive model and cognitive behavioural. The psychoanalytic model, as will later form the basis for the discussion in this thesis, is motivated by beliefs and intentions caused by feelings of loss and rejection in the subconscious. In their suicidal ideation, the individual is acting out the desire to self-punish due to impaired organisation and synthesis of experience. The cognitive model as outlined by Beck and Steer (1988) construct the suicidal or self-harming individual as polarised in their thinking due to a deficiency in problem solving abilities. In terms of anticipation of the future, therefore, the individual’s suicidal ideation causes perceptions of the future to look increasingly bleak, and for the future view shortened, as the individual becomes fixed on the futile present. Wenzel and Beck’s (2008) cognitive and behavioural model of suicide focuses specifically on the feelings of hopelessness of the suicidal individual. The person is, subsequently, limited by negative expectations and perspective which causes them to regard disproportionately life events and situations. The psychoanalytic model can offer a useful framework in understanding self-harm and suicidal ideation and behaviour in terms of interrelatedness with others and constructions of interrelatedness in the unconscious mind. Robert Hale, as reflected in the rationale of the LivingWorks ASIST programme, recognises that suicide, whilst often a private and solitary act, takes place within the context of “a dyadic relationship, or rather its failures…” (Hale, 2008, p. 14). A psychoanalytical perspective distances the physical body from the distressed state of the mind. Thus self-harm becomes an act in which “the intention is not to kill but to torture the body”, and suicide “the act to kill the self’s body” (Hale, 2008, p. 15). For Freud (1914) the self-injurious or suicidal act represents the symbolic response to an unconscious desire that the mind is incapable of expressing through the body in any other form, such as in response to a repression and wish to reverse a trauma of early 36
  48. 48. childhood (Hale, 2008, p. 15). In instances of self-harm, injury to the physical body is able to offer temporary relief for the mind. Psychoanalyst philosopher Julia Kristeva in her Essay in Abjection, Powers of Horror, similarly describes the “symbolic practices” of the “unconscious in neurotics, that become explicit if not conscious in ‘borderline’ patients’ speeches and behaviour” (1982, p. 8). Whilst Kristeva’s language is figurative, she refers also to the behaviour of the neurotic, “casting within himself the scalpel that carries out his separation” (1982, p. 8). Kristeva states, “Significance is indeed inherent in the human body (1982, p. 10). Whilst there exists a long-standing symbiosis between physical and metaphysical aspects of existence, both within religious and secular contexts, psychoanalysis sees the “splitting” as identified by Sigmund and Anna Freud and developed by Melanie Klein as a subconscious displacement of despised aspects of the self into the physical body. For Kristeva, the surviving self is the “deject” in relation to the horrifying “abject” (1982, p. 8). Maltsberger and Buie (1980) identified that in the case of individuals with suicidal ideation there was the belief that as a result of their suicidal actions the body would be killed but also that a separate part of them would continue to live, “in a conscious body-like state, otherwise unaffected by the death of their body” referred to by Donald Campbell as “the surviving self” (Maltsberger and Buie, 1980; Campbell, 2008, p. 26). Freud (1917) constructs his outline of the suicidal mind in ‘Mourning and Melancholia’. In his model, the will to kill the self is associated with the desire to destroy those who represent a threat or criticism of the self’s identity and are worthy of punishment. The self thus becomes an object. Melanie Klein (1957) developed this concept as splitting and projective identification, locating within the self a good to be preserved but also a bad deserving of assassination, Nicholas Temple gives as illustration the example of a massacre of multiple shootings before the shooting of the self (2010: xxi). Whilst the suicidal or self-harming act is one that is innately private, it takes place within the context of a relationship or lack thereof which can be called relatedness
  49. 49. (Hale, 2008). In the splitting and subsequent projection of the fragmented self, the suicidal or self-harming individual needs to implicate others in order to play out their fragmentation. Hale identifies how these others may be bystanders unconnected to the individual or they may be known but not conscious of the motivation for their involvement. Sandler and Rosenblatt (1962) describe the events that follow as the inner theatre of the patient’s in which the audience members adopt facets of the patient’s trauma – symbolic of conflict or the characteristics of hurtful or threatening others – as projected onto them and are forced to experience specific related feelings. Similarly, in the case of transference, a patient in a psychotherapeutic dynamic with a therapist may attempt without conscious effort to manipulate the analyst to behave in the manner of their projection, thus reinforcing the illusions of the patient. For the duration of the theatre, the distressed individual is afforded a reprieve from their trauma. However, as the participants disengage and disconnect, projection fails and the hurt and pain must return to the patient (Hale, 2008). It is inevitable that the suicidal person will subsequently endeavour to recreate the projective scenario, identified by Freud as the ‘repetition compulsion,’ as an attempt to exorcise the memories as ghosts: “That which cannot be understood inevitably reappear; like an unlaid ghost that cannot rest until the mystery has been solved and the spell broken” (Freud, 1921, p. 22). Hale describes three distinct triggers which precede the suicidal episode: firstly, the actual physical attack, in which an antagonist crosses the “body boundary”; secondly, the physical gesture such as a look, point or V-sign which is interpreted as threatening and denigrating and the use of words which are perceived as “intrusive, dismissive” or have a “sexualised character” (Hale, 2008 pp. 17– 18). Bibring (1953) identifies that the super-ego and its resilience may be damaged by protracted emotional suffering. The “body barrier” of the ego serves to protect the physical body from the fantasy of violence. The efficacy of the body-barrier may be compromised by “confusion”, induced by trauma or alcohol: “alcohol dissolves the super-ego”. Hale recognises the subsequential suicidal action of a trigger is one of five fantasies: the revenge fantasy in which the suicidal individuals acts out in full consciousness of how their actions will impact on others, specifically the perceived objects of their 38