Alternative Title

Right to suicide and clinician response to self-determination and suicidal ideation among adults who struggle with mental illness

Publication Date


First Advisor

Candace White

Document Type

Masters Thesis

Study Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work


School for Social Work


Suicide, Mental illness, Clinician subjectivity, Code of ethics, Self-determination


This paper explores the question: What beliefs, values and assumptions do social workers hold when assessing whether or not a person who is a mental health client has the right to suicide? The current literature reveals that individuals struggling with physical disorders deemed extreme and untreatable are likely to be accepted as rational grounds for suicide. Underrepresented in extant research is the critical examination of the desire to die as a rational versus pathological and treatable response to mental health concerns. The study question is examined, in part, through the lens of the Code of Ethics presented by the National Association of Social Workers.

In answering this question, a qualitative, exploratory study was conducted to examine clinicians’ beliefs on a person’s right to suicide and the potential impact of clinician subjectivity in work with client suicidality. The study included 10 individual, semi-structured interviews with current social workers. The findings of this study include the following: the majority perspective of clinicians interviewed revealed that persons who are mental health clients have a right to suicide; an overlap exists between physical and mental health, but reactions to physical and mental health continue to differ; person-centered therapy yields most successful results. The literature reviewed and data collected from this study reveal a clear need to rethink responses to suicidal ideation amongst persons who are mental health clients. Significant findings of this study echoed much of the existing literature on the subject of suicidal ideation amongst mental health clients: a person’s ethical right to suicide remains questioned, but the need for improved clinical response to suicidality proves imperative.


©2018. Shelley Bair.




iii, 44 pages. Includes bibliographical references (pages 35-37)