FRAMEWORK: A SOCIAL SAFETY NET

Human connections through informal and formal organizations and the tenor of social change are sources of both distressing and liberating events. They also are the building blocks of a “safety net” that can push individuals toward or pull them away from suicide as a “solution” to their problems. A description of this social safety net originated early in the history of suicide research and evolved over time (Durkheim, 1897/ 1951). As illustrated in Figure 6-1, individuals in crises often find themselves in social and cultural situations where the both the integration (i.e., love, comfort, caring, feelings of belonging) and regulation (i.e., obligations, duties, responsibilities, oversight) are moderate in level. They would be near the bottom of the net where the bonds to others are able to “catch” the individual in crises, protecting them from suicide. However, as a social or cultural group becomes too loosely bound together on either dimension, individuals facing crises are not provided with bonds of either concern or obligation, are not provided with sufficient support to deter the resort to suicide as a solution. These circumstances are presented at the front and left-hand side of the social safety net in Figure 6-1. For example, historically, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the nineteenth century, suicide rates have been reported to be correlated with low levels of social integration (Ausenda et al., 1991). In contemporary times, individuals in the United Kingdom under age 35 who completed suicide

FIGURE 6-1 Networks and the Durkheimian Theory of Suicide. SOURCE: Pescosolido and Levy, 2002. Copyright © 2002. Reprinted with permission from Elsevier Science.



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