Social connectedness can increase suicide risk

From University of Chicago:

Community characteristics play an important role in perpetuating teen suicide clusters and thwarting prevention efforts, according to a new study by sociologists at the University of Chicago and University of Memphis who examined clusters in a single town.

The study, published in the American Sociological Review, illustrates how the homogeneous culture and high degree of social connectedness of a community can increase suicide risk, particularly among teenagers. Such conditions contribute to clusters in which a series of suicides happen around the same time and in close proximity.

While news outlets have repeatedly documented the emergence of clusters, little is understood about why they happen and how to stop them. In the new study, Anna S. Mueller, an assistant professor in Comparative Human Development at UChicago, and Seth Abrutyn, an assistant professor at the University of Memphis, examined a suburban, upper-middle-class community that had experienced at least four clusters over the last 15 years.

Researchers found intense pressure to succeed, coupled with narrowly defined ideals about what youths should be, namely academically and athletically exceptional. Fears of not living up to such ideals combined with the ease with which private information became public, due to social connectedness, left teens and their parents unwilling to seek help for mental health problems. Such conditions rendered youths who were already struggling particularly vulnerable to suicide, despite having social connections within the community.

“Perhaps one of the most interesting findings of this study is that it highlights the downside to social connectedness, something that is usually touted as a key tool for suicide prevention,” Mueller said. “It also helps explain why some schools with intense academic pressure have problems with suicide while others do not. It’s not just the pressure: It’s the pressure combined with certain community factors that can make asking for help harder to do.”

The findings provide …

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