Chris studied History at the University of York for his BA, and Modern History at the same institution for his MA; his Master’s Thesis was an investigation into the ‘Syndrome of Delicate Self-Cutting’ in the late 1960s in a largely North American context. He is interested in the history and philosophy of science and medicine, the history of sex difference, the history and symbolism of self-modification, the techniques of psychiatric treatment and research, and the inventions of contemporary selfhood.
“Attempted suicide” – self-poisoning, self-damage and the “cry for help” in Britain 1948-1977
Chris’ research centres an ‘epidemic of attempted suicide’ between the late 1950s and mid-1970s in Britain. Many different clinicians - psychiatrists, psychologists, casualty officers, social workers and toxicologists – were involved across a number of sites – London, Edinburgh, Oxford, and Liverpool. These clinicians produced a stable archetype for this behaviour: young, working-class women, impulsively taking an overdose of medication. They also attached a more or less stable meaning to it: a ‘cry for help’ in response to intolerable distress, caused by marital, romantic or domestic problems. The aim of the thesis is to account for the rise and subsequent fall of the behavioural pattern in historical terms, looking at the changing provision of psychiatric expertise at general hospitals (principally concerning the Mental Health Act 1959), the decriminalisation of suicide (Suicide Act 1961) and the rise of psychiatric epidemiology.