Research

Currently, Mueller has three on-going and interrelated research projects on suicide in adolescence and young adulthood with her colleague Seth Abrutyn at University of British Columbia. These projects examine how exposure to the suicide deaths of significant others (e.g., friends, family or schoolmates) shape adolescent mental health and vulnerability to suicide by drawing on insights from social psychology, cultural sociology, sociology of emotions and social network theories.

The first project uses nationally representative survey data, multi-level modeling and social network analysis to improve our understanding of how and when the diffusion of suicide through social ties occurs. This work has emphasizes how (1) gender, (2) life course stage, (3) the relationship to the person who attempted or died by suicide, and (4) communication about suicide between friends shape suicide diffusion.

The second project involves an in-depth case study of a small, highly-integrated, majority white, wealthy, suburban U.S. community with a high number of youth suicide deaths (including a history of repeat or “echo” suicide clusters). Drawing from in-depth interviews, focus groups, and participant observation, this project identifies the structural and cultural forces within this community that render adolescents more vulnerable to suicide and shows how pressure to live up to high expectations can have unintended consequences for youth, such as generating an intense fear of failure, suppressing help-seeking, and reifying mental health stigma.

Her final project leverages empirical insights from the first two projects to develop a more elaborate sociological theory of suicide. From this work, she has published several theoretical essays that develop the idea that the structure and cultural content of communities condition their role in preventing or promoting suicide. This work begins with Durkheim’s important insights on social integration/regulation and elaborates them using insights from the empirical projects and with ideas from social psychology, cultural sociology, sociology of emotions and social network theories.

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