Why Networks Matter to Suicide: Examining the Structure & Content of Social Ties in a Suicide-Prone Community

Anna Mueller, U Chicago, Sociology
A large body of research suggests that exposure to suicide can increase an individual’s chance of experiencing suicidality; however, we know little about the mechanisms that confer this increased risk and even less about why suicide clusters form. Using qualitative data from an in-depth case study of a town with a significant history of repeated suicide clusters (N=110), we examine how both the structure of and culture embedded in social networks facilitate youth’s perception of suicide as an option. As with other social behaviors, we find that suicide is a social act replete with meanings for when, why, who, where, and how suicide happens. These meanings are (1) broadly shared in the community thanks to the highly-cohesive social networks and (2) somewhat unique to the community (compared to a reference group of respondents who do not live in the community). We also discuss evidence that these broadly shared understandings shape when youth see suicide as an option for themselves. Implications for the sociology of suicide and social networks research are also discussed.
October, 24 2016 | 12:45 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. | Gross Hall 230E

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