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Connie Gager, Montclair State University

Suicide, Social Support and Embeddedness: Exploring Gender & Racial/Ethnic Differences in Suicidal Thoughts and the Mediating Effect of Generativity
When Apr 06, 2020
from 12:00 PM to 01:00 PM
Where 1101 Morrill Hall
Contact Name
Contact Phone 301-405-6403
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About the Presentation

Recent data from the CDC finds the suicide rate in the United States increased by nearly 30% since 1999 (Stone et al, 2018), and research has determined that the incidence of suicide attempts and ideation are higher than actual deaths by suicide (Drapeau & McIntosh, 2018). Much of the research on suicide, suicide ideation, and depression has failed to fully contextualize these important mental health issues. Recently, researchers Abrutyn & Mueller (2019) proposed a new more contextualized framework based on Durkheim’s basic tenet that health and happiness are contingent upon the structure of social relationships in which individuals are embedded (see also Abrutyn & Mueller, 2016). In the present research, we aim to provide a fuller portrait of the growing mental health issue of suicide ideation among older Americans by placing such thoughts and actions in a larger economic and social context.

Older Americans are living longer and choosing to age in place – potentially placing this population at greater risk of social isolation and thwarted belongingness -- two risk factors theoretically linked to suicide (Joiner 2005; Van Orden et al., 2010). Older women may face an even graver situation, as their decreasing remarriage rate and lower lifetime earnings have resulted in their greater likelihood of living alone and in poverty compared with men their age. Recent data show that the vast majority of men over age 65 lived with a spouse/partner, while just less than one-half of older women do. Thus, 34 percent of women age 65 and over lived alone, while only 20 percent of their male counterparts did. In addition, older women had a higher poverty rate (10.6%) than older men (7.6%). And, last, race/ethnicity plays a role as well with older Latinx women having the highest levels of poverty (2017 Profile of Older Americans, 2018).

Previous research on suicide ideation confirms that depression and human relatedness variables such as marital status and social support may reduce suicide ideation but it has been limited by small sample sizes (Vanderhorst & McClaren, 2015). We address these data shortcomings by utilizing a national sample of older Americans from the biomarker data collected as part of the Midlife in the United States Survey (MIDUS), wave 2. The large sample size of MIDUS will allow us to simultaneously examine multiple predictors of suicide ideation including depression, gender, race/ethnicity, and poverty status as well as variables measuring the degree of social belongingness -- marital status, living arrangements, and social interaction. Last, we extend previous research by considering the role of generativity as a mediator for these multiple predictive risk factors. Thus, we ask: net of several risk factors previously linked with suicide ideation, does feeling that one left a lasting legacy for the next generation mediate risk factors for suicide ideation?

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