Teenage Suicides Bewilder an Island, and the Experts

That is the headline of a very sad story about a cluster of three suicides on Nantucket.  Too bad they didn’t seem to look for any sociology experts.  Starting with Durkheim’s Suicide there  is a lot of evidence that suicide is not exclusively a problem of the “head” but also of the community and society.  All of the experts are trying to help the individuals (and I am sure with the best of intentions).

My students and I read  about how suicides often spread like other social contagions or information cascades in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.  If this is the case, the the specific network structure will matter.  One advantage to understanding suicide as a social and not merely a psychological phenomenon is that intervention strategies can shift or adapt.  Unfortunately, it is not clear that the psychiatrists are making much headway on what to do.  This article summarizes research on suicides in Micronesia and ends up concluding that “sociocultural factors” may matter.

Teenage Suicides Bewilder an Island, and the Experts – New York Times
Then the specialists began to descend. Some visited classrooms, wanting to talk students through their grief. Another emphasized the importance of telling young people that suicide was wrong, and an awful way to solve problems. Still another promoted relaxation techniques and warned that suicidal behavior could be contagious.

I want to find out more about what conclusions and recommendations come from looking at this problem as a social fact as much as a psychological one.

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Filed under psychology, Social Networks, sociology

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