restricted access While of Unsound Mind?: Narratives of Responsibility in Suicide Notes from the Twentieth Century

Between 1892 and 1960, most suicide verdicts rendered during coroners’ inquests labelled death by a person’s own hand as “suicide while of unsound mind.” During this period, psychiatrists increasingly determined the degree to which individuals who attempted to kill themselves could be considered criminally responsible for their actions or not responsible by reason of mental illness. To elucidate this gradual transition from state to medical authority over suicide in Canada, we analyse narratives of responsibility found in “suicide notes” appended to coroners’ inquests, particularly ways in which the act of suicide was construed by individuals who committed suicide as a rational decision or an individual right and not as a moment of madness or a criminal act.