Close Community Connections May Be Risk Factor for Suicide

High school students walking to classA new study examining social connectedness in small, homogenous communities suggests these communities may carry a high risk of suicide clusters, particularly among teenagers and young adults.

Suicide clusters—multiple deaths by suicide in close proximity or succession—can occur in large communities and small, on school campuses and in the workplace. When they do happen, mental health experts try to pinpoint which elements played a role and how one fatality may have led to additional loss of life.

Suicide Clusters in a Homogenous Community

By examining a homogenous community where four suicide clusters occurred in 15 years, a pair of researchers from the University of Memphis and the University of Chicago have noted in their findings that a high level of social connectedness can be a mitigating factor in such environments.

The community involved in the research was not named in the study due to potential confidentiality concerns. In all, 19 young people in the community died by suicide between 2000 and 2015. Researchers conducted interviews and focus groups with 110 residents to better understand any patterns.

Researchers saw high expectations commonly applied to students in the community, which was largely suburban with upper-middle-class residents. They noted a heavy pressure to succeed, both academically and athletically. The authors also added the town’s close-knit social networks facilitated faster spreading of information, while furthering the visibility of an individual’s actions.

In the community, stigma against seeking help for any mental health concerns was high, mainly due to the interconnection of the community and the inability to protect private information. The authors theorize fear of not living up to ideals of success combined with private information becoming public make young people in the community especially vulnerable to suicide.

Social Connectedness as a Suicide Risk Factor

The study’s authors noted the contradictory nature of how social connectedness was shown to play a negative role in their research. Typically, greater social connectivity is associated with helping reduce the risk of suicide.

In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began actively promoting stronger social connectedness as a strategy to help prevent suicide, citing supportive relationships as a buffer for any effects of suicide risk factors in someone’s life.

Recommendations in the community study include developing suicide prevention strategies that address the potential downside of high social connectedness, along with efforts to give young people the tools and perspective needed for dealing with perceived failures.

References:

  1. Mueller, A. S., & Abrutyn, S. (2016, September 2). Adolescents under pressure: A new Durkheimian framework for understanding adolescent suicide in a cohesive community. American Sociological Review. doi:10.1177/0003122416663464
  2. Peters, M. (2016, September 9). Community matters in suicide prevention, study finds. Retrieved from https://news.uchicago.edu/article/2016/09/09/community-matters-suicide-prevention-study-finds
  3. Suicide Prevention Resource Center. (n.d.). Promote social connectedness and support. Retrieved from http://www.sprc.org/comprehensive-approach/social-connectedness

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  • Nate

    Nate

    September 21st, 2016 at 2:23 PM

    would have thought just the opposite- that if people are close then you have someone you can turn to if you are having dangerous thoughts

  • Dana

    Dana

    September 21st, 2016 at 8:31 PM

    Makes sense in small rural communities where kids are more isolated as a result of parental isolation and lack of chances to advance and more prone to use substances!

  • Hollis

    Hollis

    September 22nd, 2016 at 2:20 PM

    There are certain kids who will always be followers and they are going to feed off of the words and actions of those whom they follow.
    This is likely to happen in small towns, I agree, where there are a few few really big fish in a pretty small pond and everyone just sort of falls in line with what the obvious leaders encourage them to do.

  • james

    james

    September 25th, 2016 at 7:52 AM

    I have heard this suggested about some of the Arctic cultures where suicides among young people are becoming rampant.

  • Max

    Max

    September 27th, 2016 at 3:49 PM

    A lot of this would depend on the community specifically that you are looking at.
    I think that if you are looking at a close knit community with many family member’s living in the same vicinity then I think that that would be different than say a bunch of college friends who are in the same space together all the time.
    The type of setting is definitely going to effect the outcomes that you observe.

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