Suicide & Mental Health Research

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    • 00:10

      SETH ABRUYTN: We gained very rare opportunity-- hadan opportunity to get access to a communitythat for the last 15 or 20 years or so, they'vehad at least four if not five or six suicide clusters.So a cluster is when beyond random chance,two or more people take their lives

    • 00:30

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: within a physical and temporally-constrained period.And so they've had four or five of them,and now we call these echo clustersbecause they're building on what has happened in the past.And this community, from the outside,doesn't make any sense.It's affluent.It's like 95% white.

    • 00:51

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: The median home is not only biggerand the rate is not only higher than the surrounding communityin the state, but it nationally wouldbe one of the more affluent communities.It has all the resources available to dealwith this particular problem, and itcan't escape the problem.And so Ann and I have been interviewing people.

    • 01:14

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: We've collected about 120 interviews or a bit moreof adolescents, young adults who'velived through some of the clustersand are still there, parents obviouslyand mental health professionals.And the whole story is about pressure, academic pressure,

    • 01:34

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: about the pressure to be perfect,and part of the problem of perfection--part of the ideal of perfection--is not being mentally ill.And it sort of is a bizarre circlethat they're in because the pressure to be the best studentleads to lack of sleep, leads to anxiety,leads to all sorts of medication,

    • 01:56

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: leads to mental illness.And they can't express that.The parents can't express that because the parents live--it's a bedroom community, so the parent's statusis constructed from their children, howtheir children are doing.They use Facebook.Oh, my kid got into Harvard, my kid got into this,my kid got into that.And everyone's reading it, everybody knows about it.

    • 02:16

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: The center of the town is the school.The Friday night, Saturday night athletic eventsare where all the people are at.So the kids are on display.And so the pressure is enormous.And so we have a lot different angles to this,but the emotional side of this is it's a shame culture.

    • 02:37

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: And it's not just the shame that people feel from failing,but it's like this immense fear of failing.Asking kids what would happen if you only took three AP classesor if you were the 10th best student and hearing themsay, well, I need to do those things,otherwise I'm going to end up working at McDonald's andmy life is over.There's no perspective.

    • 02:59

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: And so on top of all of that, the shameis you have the kids who take their lives normallyat the beginning of these clustersare the highest status kids.The best looking girl who's a four sports star who's gota 4.0-- well, I guess in my day it was 4.0 GPAs.Now it's 5.0 or something.

    • 03:19

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: I don't know what it means, but they have higher GPAs.And they take their lives.And of course, these kids are nowtrying to deal with the emotion of like, holy cow,somebody took their lives.This really amazing person who we all look up totook their lives.The parents don't know how to dealwith the meaning of the suicide.So they create these big public mourning rituals

    • 03:41

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: and they donate park benches.The memory of this person will never disappear.And so all of the things I was talking about,the interaction rituals where we buildthis collective effervescence, there'sthis constant negative collective effervescenceall around the rituals that people doin the way they talk about it.And this filters down and the shame culture

    • 04:01

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: is there and these kids, they justdon't know-- it's like a pressure cooker for them.And so when they fail, they look to these modelsand they're like, well, if that person s amazingand they can't succeed, what are my chances?I'm just like the 10th best person or the 20th best person.And it leads to these clusters.And this is just people taking their lives.

    • 04:24

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: It's impossible to know how many people attempt,how many people think about it, and how many people arejust self-harming.You hear about the stories.And we talked to some medical peoplewho talk about when these things happen,there's hundreds of people attempting.And we just don't talk about it.They come in, they get treated really quickand they go home and their parents hide it.

    • 04:46

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: But it's happening.And so here, you have this community, and whatis really interesting about the work is that the community isthis really affluent place, but it's also like a bubble.And so the there's no way to release it.And the sad thing is there are other communities like that.Palo Alto is one of the most famous ones right now.That's the one where Silicon Valley almost

    • 05:10

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: exact same type of conditions.And you have at least two clusters that I'm aware ofand the CDC has been there tryingto figure out what's going on.But they're not really studying emotions.They're studying it like it's a disease, like an epidemicthat's spreading.And they don't have the tools because theydon't have sociologists.They're epidemiologists.To me, that's where you get started is thinking about how

    • 05:33

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: do emotions lead to contagion?And then how do we change the emotion profile,the biography that people have?How do we talk about it differently?It's really bizarre.We started out by just trying to understand dyadic contagion.So we have been using statistics to look at how having a friendor family member attempt or completesuicide, what's the probabilities

    • 05:55

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: of other people doing that?And then we started asking questions more refinedabout how people bereave emotionallyand why some people are at risk of contagionand some aren't, thinking about the emotional side of it.And we went into the community asking those questions,and it was just through focus groups in the beginningthat the much larger picture came up

    • 06:16

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: that it wasn't really dyadic, but it was community level.There was a culture that had been built in that communityand it had become toxic, and through not really evendyadic relationships, but through the networksand through people internalizing what the ideal kid was like,

    • 06:37

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: it became what we would call a cultural script.People learn that suicide is an option.It's available.And this is who does it, when they do it,why they do it, which is really important.Because people don't think about suicideas a meaningful social act.But it is.You need to know why to do it.You don't just randomly do it.

    • 06:57

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: And so the who, the when, the why,and even where sometimes became a part of the script.And the script just gets passed down inter-generationallybecause some kids, their brothers and sisters,went through a cluster.And so they're aware of it.Many of the kids know five people who have either

    • 07:17

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: completed or attempted.So this was all really accidental.I mean, we were in there actuallyresearching the bereavement side of it and the dyadic contagionside, and it became a much larger story.And that's rare.I don't know if that always works out in research,but it was the surprising finding.

    • 07:39

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: Sociologists, we accept the fact that the world is extremelycomplicated and there's things that we can neverexplain fully.So with that in mind, we have workedwith one of the local state-level suicide preventiongroup that's been there for a while.And we're working at cross pressures to some degree.

    • 08:02

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: Some people deny that there's a problem.Some people think that there's a problem with other people'skids.Some people say that they don't do these thingswith their kids, but then you ask them more questions,and turns out they're putting a lot of pressure on it.And so the best that we could suggestis that the community itself needsto have a new cultural frame for how they go about things.

    • 08:24

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: And this is the problem is how do you do that?How do you tell parents to stop freaking out about their kidsgrades and whether they're going to get into good colleges?How do you tell the kids to stop freaking out about that?Because that's the world we live in.I mean, American society, it doesn't matterwhat community you live in.The testing, everything, it's keeping up with the Joneses.

    • 08:46

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: The only thing I think that you can really dois to start talking about suicidein a completely different way.You can't glorify, you can't memorialize peopleand that's hard to do.Because when someone takes their life,the first thing that everyone asks is why?Nobody has the answer to that because itdoesn't make any sense.But here we are seeking the meaning,

    • 09:06

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: and if there are pre-established meanings thatgive the kids an idea of why, then they'regoing to identify differently.The big thing I think that we found--we have a comparison group outside of this community,and when those people are asked about why their family memberor friend took their lives, they alwaysgo right to the mental health thing.

    • 09:29

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: And they say, I can understand why so-and-so took their life.They were really depressed.I'm not like that.I'm not depressed.And when we asked the kids in this community,first thing they talk about is the pressure on them.And so they have a frame to go with their script,and the only way to fix that is to change the frame.And I don't know exactly what the steps are

    • 09:50

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: besides letting all the main communitypeople know that they have to reframewhy people died by suicide.The saddest part about sociology is we study reallyserious problems whose solutions are not--you don't have a magic wand.If you study inequality, it's not like you can just say,

    • 10:10

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: we need to get rid of all inequality tomorrow.It's not as easy as that.You can just push for it and explain to people,this is what needs to be done.And maybe you can save one kid's life.You can get a set of parents to be like, oh my god, Ihave been doing this all wrong.You do that, maybe you get two or three parents, maybefive parents, maybe you get a whole neighborhood of people

    • 10:31

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: to rethink about it.And that's kind of the frame of the bookis we're using real people's quotes.It's not going to be a bunch of statistics.It's going to be a human emotional side to what'shappening and letting people speak for themselvesand letting parents and teenagers read that.Oh my god, that person feels the same way I do.But they survived.

    • 10:51

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: They were resilient.Or oh my god, I really want my kid to go to Harvard,but I need to rethink about how we set goals.And when we fail, how we deal with that failure.There's a sociologist Thomas Scheffwho was the guy who brought shame into sociology,and he's been speaking the gospel for like 30 years.

    • 11:13

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: And I'm not sure anybody really listened to himbecause he became more of a psychologistthan a sociologist.In any case, he sent me his syllabusto a course-- he teaches a grad course in a big lecturehall, which is I don't know how he was doing this.But both of those courses were similarin the sense that to teach emotions,to critically think about emotions,

    • 11:35

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: you've got to start by identifying the emotions you'refeeling and why certain topics, why certain questions, whycertain experiences with your classmateslead to different types of emotions.And it's easy to do with gender.Why do boys feel this way and why do girlsfeel that way when faced with a class dilemmaor when faced with a really difficult question about rape

    • 12:00

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: or sexual abuse or something like that?Why did those two people feel different emotions?Label those emotions, get into that,and get into the really difficult stuff.And that to me, it's the therapeutic side of itthat is where the real critical questions are.And then you can get into the intellectual sideof the sociology emotions.And then you can get into research,but first you have to start with,

    • 12:20

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: why am I feeling this way?And that's the hook.Because once people say, oh my god, I am feeling this way,I didn't even realize it.I got this grade.I didn't even identify these emotions before.I just felt them and I moved on.I went on a date and I felt the chemistry--we talk about it in all these different ways.I felt the collective effervescence bubble up.

    • 12:42

      SETH ABRUYTN [continued]: Didn't even think about it.Why do I like this professor and not that one?Emotional connection, didn't even think about it.And once we start thinking about all the feelings we'refeeling in those microseconds, then you open the door,I think.So I don't know if there's a critical question besides whyare you feeling this right now?

Suicide & Mental Health Research

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Unique ID: bd-sociology-case-smhr-AA05074


Professor Seth Abruytn discusses the research he has done on suicide and mental health. The research took place inside a community that had many suicide clusters over 15-20 years. Abruytn discusses causes of suicide, his research findings, and suicide prevention.

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Suicide & Mental Health Research

Professor Seth Abruytn discusses the research he has done on suicide and mental health. The research took place inside a community that had many suicide clusters over 15-20 years. Abruytn discusses causes of suicide, his research findings, and suicide prevention.

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