Nobody Talks About Suicide, Except If They’re Kidding: Disenfranchised Grief, Coping Strategies, and Suicide Survivor Identity in Peer Suicide Grievers
Since DurkheimÕs (1897/1979) classic study, sociologists have understood that while suicide appears to be a highly personal and private act, it is also a social act. In 2009, nearly 37,000 Americans died by suicide (American Association of Suicidology, 2012). Experts estimate that every suicide intimately affects at least six individuals, both family members and friends, connected to the suicide decedent (Shneidman, 1969). A central question in the field of suicide bereavement is how suicide grief differs from other types of loss (Jordan, 2001). However, such a focus has restricted suicide grievers studied to next-of-kin relationships, despite emphasis that suicide grievers constitute several populations (SAMSHA, 2010). By investigating suicide loss in peer relationships through a qualitative study, this dissertation serves to diversify scholarly inquiry of suicide grief. Moreover, employing the disenfranchised grief framework (Doka, 1989; 2002) as a theoretical lens emphasizes the sociality of suicide loss, especially in terms of relational status and stigmatized dimensions of death by suicide (Charmaz & Milligan, 2006). Twenty-six peers were identified through chain referral sampling strategies (Berg, 2007) and in-depth, semi-structured, face-to-face and telephone interviews were conducted. Results identify several new variants of disenfranchised grief in terms of stigmatized loss and relational status. A continuum of intrapersonal, intermediary, and group-based or extrinsic coping behaviors was developed to conceptualize and understand participantsÕ varied re-enfranchisement experiences. In particular, participantsÕ involvement in suicide prevention advocacy such as fundraising walks and programs contributes insights into the process and meanings of re-enfranchisement among peer suicide grievers. At the macro-level, this impetus towards advocacy for suicide prevention among participants is considered through the lens of the health social movement literature within medical sociology (Brown et al., 2004). Alternatively, at the micro-level, findings suggest that a suicide survivor identity is a collaboratively-based identity whereby group contexts influence how this status is defined, signified, affirmed, and even policed (Schwalbe & Mason-Schrock, 1996). Moreover, the existence of these group-based remedies for suicide grief raise the question of whether recently proposed changes to the upcoming DSM-V medicalizing (Kleinman, 2012) and privatizing grief under a depression diagnosis will indirectly foreclose suicide grievers accessing these resources.
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