The homogeneous culture and high degree of social connectedness of a community can contribute to teenage suicide as well as thwart prevention efforts, says a study contradicting popular notions about being socially connected.
“The findings highlights the downside to social connectedness, something that is usually touted as a key tool for suicide prevention,” said Anna S. Mueller, Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago in Illinois, US.
Community with its intense pressure to succeed, coupled with narrowly defined ideals about what youths should be, can perpetuate teenage suicide clusters, in which a series of suicides happen around the same time and in close proximity.
Fears of not living up to such ideals combined with the ease with which private information became public, due to social connectedness, leave teenagers and their parents unwilling to seek help for mental health problems.
Despite having social connections within the community, such conditions rendered youths who were already struggling particularly vulnerable to suicide, the researchers explained.
“Our study also helps explain why some schools with intense academic pressure have problems with suicide while others do not. It’s not just the pressure, but a combination of certain community factors that can make asking for help even harder,” Mueller added.
The study demonstrated how community needs to be considered when assessing vulnerabilities, and why prevention organisations should no longer view social connectedness exclusively as a positive force in measuring suicide risk.
For the study, the team focussed on a single community, in which 19 students or recent graduates of the local high school had committed suicide between 2000 and 2015. Their field research included interviews and focus groups involving a total of 110 people.
The creation of various programmes to help students navigate perceived failure and academic stresses should be developed, the researchers recommended, in the paper published in the journal American Sociological Review.