Case Study of Adolescent Suicide

University of Memphis sociologist will talk about social group influences on suicide in Feb. 11 lecture

By Robert Parsons

Seth Abrutyn

Seth Abrutyn

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Seth Abrutyn, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Memphis, will discuss how families, peers, and other social groups influence attitudes about suicide on Thursday, Feb. 11, at UC Riverside.

Abrutyn will discuss “The Case of Adolescent Suicide in a Cohesive Community” at a One Health Center seminar from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Humanities 1500. The event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited, so reservations are requested. Parking permits may be obtained at the kiosk on West Campus Drive at the University Avenue entrance to the campus.

The sociology of suicide has evolved since French social psychologist Emile Durkheim published his 1897 monograph “Suicide.” Durkheim developed a theory of suicide that what is thought to be a highly individual act is actually socially patterned and has social, not only psychological, causes.

Abrutyn will examine how research is focused on fostering a new way of thinking about Durkheim’s theory of suicide, and will review a case study of a cohesive, suburban town with a serious adolescent suicide problem. He will explore how altruistic and fatalistic suicides, two types of suicide Durkheim articulated in the 19th century, can be re-imagined to improve our understanding of how social groups shape suicide in ways that help prevent suicides. Altruistic suicides are those that occur in societies where individual needs are considered less important than those of society; fatalistic suicides occur when a person’s life is so regulated as to be oppressive.

In the case study, Abrutyn said, “life in this highly integrated community, particularly for adolescents, is intensely regulated by the clearly defined local culture, which emphasizes academic achievement and perfectionism. The fear of failing to live up to community expectations is amplified by the cohesive social networks that facilitate the spread of information. This cultural-structural combination generates intense emotional reactions to the prospect of failure among adolescents and an unwillingness to seek psychological help among both parents and youth.”

The event is presented by the School of Public Policy and co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology.

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