While a great deal of research has documented sociodemographic trends in suicide risk, a more fundamental question about how people experience suicide and how they frame those experiences across their identities remains unanswered. This project will examine how suicide survivors construct cultural narratives to make meaning of their suicide experiences in order to inform suicide prevention strategies, clinical approaches to working with suicidal populations, and post-suicide social supports. We know that variation in social statuses, such as social class, gender and race, are related to increases in suicide risk. This project will analyze such variations in survivors’ cultural narratives. The identification of social mechanisms underlying suicidality will help policy makers: 1) create and refine suicide prevention by understanding the unique circumstances that precede survivors’ suicide experiences; 2) design policy to help those who have suicidal experiences transition back to life and society by identifying their unique circumstances and needs following suicide experiences; and 3) refine clinicians’ approaches to suicidal populations by explaining variation within the suicidal population across social identities. If, as evidence suggests, suicide survivors’ experiences and cultural narratives vary across social positions then these findings will have the potential to contribute to tailored suicide prevention policy and post-suicide programming, which could both save lives from suicide and improve survivors’ quality of life post-suicide experience.

Understanding how people experience surviving suicide is critical to enhance suicide prevention efforts as well as to proving support to suicide survivors. Using in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 120 suicide survivors, this project will examine how individuals’ social identities—and the salience of those identities—affect how they make sense of their suicide experiences and how these framings relate to their transitions back to life after periods of suicidal ideation or suicide attempt(s). Interview data will be analyzed using a grounded theory approach with Max QDA, a software program that allows for sorting, coding, and organizing narrative interview data. Given the paucity of qualitative work on suicide, this project is both methodologically and theoretically novel. The qualitative approach will advance contemporary sociological theory about suicide and provide information about the social mechanisms through which social categories relate to suicide experiences. More broadly the project contributes to sociological theories related to health disparities that vary by social status.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Melanie Hughes
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University of Massachusetts Amherst
United States
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