The social norms of suicidal and self-harming behaviours

  • Jody Quigley

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Background and Aims The current thesis explored whether the social norms approach might be applicable to suicidal and self-harming behaviours (SSHBs). A thorough literature review and three empirical studies were conducted. The review indicated that children's and adolescents' SSHBs appear to be related to SSHB in people they know, but the literature assumed accurate knowledge of others' behaviour, and individual behaviours and reference groups were not always well-defined. Study 1 A social norms survey indicated that undergraduate students tend to believe that those close to them are less likely to engage in SSHBs than they reported doing, but that more distal groups are more likely to do so. Proximal groups were also perceived as less likely to approve of SSHBs. Perceived proximal group norms tended to predict reported norms directly, while perceived distal group norms tended to show negative associations with reported norms. Study 2 Similar results were found in an adolescent social norms survey, with proximal groups perceived as less likely to engage in and approve of SSHBs, and distal groups perceived as more likely to do so. Conversely, close friends' norms were perceived similarly to distal group norms. Perceived norms again predicted reported norms, with close friends' norms showing particular importance. Study 3 The final study used qualitative methods to explore the beliefs and experiences behind undergraduates' normative perceptions. A range of knowledge, experience, judgements, and perceived causes, motivations and outcomes of SSHBs were identified, and conceptualisation was complex and often contradictory. Social desirability appeared to impact reported attitudes. Conclusions Findings suggest that the social norms approach may well be applicable to SSHB, but in different ways to behaviours previously studied. Consideration of target population, reference group and moral/ethical judgements of SSHB is imperative. Implications for the development of theory and directions for further research are discussed.
Date of Award13 Feb 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde

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