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A thematic analysis of how prisoners overcome suicidality

Lucy Reading (Lucy Reading is a Forensic Psychologist in Training, based at HMP Gartree, Leicestershire, UK.)
Erica Bowen (Dr Erica Bowen is based at Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, Coventry University, Coventry, UK.)

International Journal of Prisoner Health

ISSN: 1744-9200

Article publication date: 9 December 2014




The purpose of this paper is to explore the perceptions, beliefs and abilities that support adult male prisoners in overcoming suicidality.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight male life sentenced prisoners in a Category B prison. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the data and interpret how prisoners have overcome suicidality.


Five overarching themes were identified; sense of self, presence of meaning, connectedness, shift of perspective and re-establishing control. The themes were closely interconnected and revealed novel insights into the variables that supported prisoners to overcome suicidality.

Research limitations/implications

The themes were drawn from a specific prisoner population, which may not be representative of the wider prison population. Additionally, the sole focus on suicidality may be an oversimplification of self-destructive behaviours and could have affected the factors identified.

Practical implications

The results highlight the need to refine suicide prevention strategies in prisons; in the assessment of suicide risk, the improvement of supportive regimes and the development of psychological interventions.


This research is the first to qualitatively examine the factors involved in overcoming suicide in adult male prisoners. The research is of value to researchers and practitioners alike, as it extends previous research in prison populations and suggests avenues for the development of suicide prevention strategies.



The authors would like to thank Erica Bowen and Gail Steptoe-Warren of Coventry University for their academic support and advice. The authors are also grateful to HM Prison Service for their operational support. Finally and most importantly, the authors would like to thank the men who participated in this research. No funding was sought for the research. Ethical approval was granted by Coventry University and HM Prison Service East Midlands Ethics Committee.


Reading, L. and Bowen, E. (2014), "A thematic analysis of how prisoners overcome suicidality", International Journal of Prisoner Health, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp. 212-227.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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