Suicide Cultures

Suicide Cultures: Reimagining Suicide Research

Suicide Cultures is a Wellcome Trust funded research project which aims to explore what suicide means to diverse communities across Scotland and it’s Islands.

About Suicide Cultures: Reimagining Suicide Research

Suicide is a pressing public health issue, affecting millions of people globally. In Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, suicide prevention is a priority for governments, and for health and social care practitioners.

More broadly, suicide is a topic of intense public interest, perhaps especially for those who have themselves experienced suicidal thoughts or actions, or who have lost someone to suicide. 

Research which helps us to understand why suicides happen, and in what circumstances, is vital in informing policy and practice responses to suicide.

Much existing research about suicide uses statistical methods - looking at rates of suicide across popluations, or studying psychological risk factors among particular groups. Such studies have generated a wealth of knowledge about risk factors for suicide. However, research which uses qualitative methods, and which considers the social and cultural contexts and meanings of suicide is much more scarce.

Suicide in Scotland

In 2018 784 people died due to probable suicide. This was an increase from 680 deaths recorded in 2017. It remains to be seen whether this rise will continue, and whether the Covid-19 pandemic will affect rates further. Compared to England and Wales, Scotland has had comparatively higher rates of suicide for some years - the reasons for this are poorly understood.  Rates of suicide also vary within Scotland. Perhaps because so much research is concerned with psychological and psychiatric explanations for suicide, there has been little research about the potential differences in how suicide is practiced and understood among different communities, living in different geographical areas.

The Suicide Cultures research project is designed to significantly enhance our knowledge and understanding of suicide in Scotland. Using a range of qualitative methods, including arts-based workshops, interviews, and documentary analysis, the project will investigate:

  • the way in which social context affects how suicide is understood, and how it is practised.
  • the role of culture in shaping the meanings suicide has, and the impacts it might have on different communities


Scotland is a diverse country, the Suicide Cultures research programme will examine how this diversity might shape suicide and self-harm in terms of both ‘numbers’ and ‘meanings’.

Busy city street


Research activities 

  • We are building a network of practitioners, scholars and other interested people who want to understand more about suicide as a social and cultural issue. To join, you can email Amy (a.chandler[at]
  • From 2021 we will be carrying out an adapted ‘sociological autopsy’ study of suicides in Scotland.
  • Using qualitative, ethnographic and arts-based approaches to research suicide among diverse communities and locations across Scotland.
    • We will be holding interviews from late 2021 onwards.
    • Arts-based workshops are planned for 2022.


From 2018-2020 the project was funded by a Wellcome Trust/University of Edinburgh Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF). During this time essential piloting work and network building was carried out.

From September 2020 to August 2025 the project is funded by a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award