Understanding the role of locality on suicide risk

Series Lead: Cathy Brennan (School of Medicine)

Series Co-Conveners: 

Simon Popple (Media)

Sarah Waters (LCS)

Research Context:

Suicide is in the top 10 causes of life years lost for both sexes. In young people and men under 50 years of age it is in the top 3 causes of death worldwide. Explanations tend to focus on the individual and psychological – emphasising mental illness or individual vulnerabilities. When social factors feature, they take the form of accounts of disruption to the individual’s function occasioned by events in the immediate social environment – such as bereavement, loss of work or social status.

We know there are geographical and temporal variations in suicide rate that cannot readily be explained by individual factors. There is some evidence for a link between area level socio-economic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour and theoretical work that links asset-rich communities with better mental health. However, little is known about the characteristics of the environment (physical, cultural, social) that may confer risk of suicide, or resilience to it, and how this might interact with individual risk.

There has been some recent work across the social sciences (particularly sociology) to better develop our understanding of the social factors that may explain suicide risk and how these interact with our understanding of individual risk. To date this has focused on understanding in more depth how social deprivation, social connectedness and the wider economic context may impact on suicide risk.

There is now a recognition that the advancement of knowledge in this area requires a concerted multi-disciplinary approach. In particular we need to explore ways to investigate the nature of locality, in terms of space and culture, and how individuals interact with and make sense of their communities in relation to suicide risk.

Aims of the Series:

This seminar series will bring together researchers, stakeholders and policy makers and create a space to explore and develop new approaches to suicide research. It will seek to move beyond a focus on individual and group characteristics and explore ways to investigate the interactions between people, their environment and their context.

The series will address these research questions:

  1. How can we best explore and characterise locality factors that may be important in understanding area level suicide risk?
  2. How can a locality-based perspective be integrated into research and policy to augment the existing approach oriented towards targeting high risk populations on the basis of individual risk?

Events in the series:

The dark side of work: psychological violence in the workplace (4 November 2019)

Exploring locality in the context of suicide risk: implications for research and policy (6 February 2020)