Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

Document Type

Dissertation

Abstract

Determining the risk factors and associated pathways that lead individuals to suicidal behavior is an important endeavor in developing appropriate intervention and prevention strategies. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, this dissertation examines how stressful life events, contextual socioeconomic disadvantage, and major early life traumas are associated with suicidal tendencies of U.S. individuals. In addition to direct associations, some of the potential mediating mechanisms that these stressors exert their effects through were also investigated. The major findings indicated that stressful life events increased the risk of suicidal ideation and attempt among adolescents, both directly, and indirectly through increasing psychological distress (i.e., depression and substance use) and eroding available psychosocial resources (i.e., perceived social support and self-esteem). Although contextual socioeconomic disadvantage was not a significant predictor of suicidal ideation, it increased the suicide attempt risk for male adolescents. The association between contextual socioeconomic disadvantage and male suicide attempts was not due to the individual-level socioeconomic characteristics of the adolescents living in disadvantaged contexts; rather, it was explained by the fact that adolescents from disadvantaged contexts encountered more stressors (i.e., experience higher levels of exposure to violence and perceive a greater lack of safety) than others. Early life traumas—exposure to emotional, physical, and sexual abuse before the 18th birthday—were found to be significantly and independently associated with a higher risk of suicidal ideation in adulthood. A substantive portion of the effects was mediated by perceived social rejection, subjective powerlessness, and psychological distress (i.e., depression and anxiety). This dissertation contributes to the research examining the stressful life events, contextual disadvantage, and traumatic experiences as risk factors of suicidality as well as the literature exploring the pathways between stress and suicidality. The general policy implications of this dissertation include a continued emphasis on stress management and support programs, developing suicide prevention schemes with a scale and intensity that is proportionate to the degree of contextual socioeconomic disadvantage, and evaluating suicidal individuals for prior childhood abuse experiences, and to assess abuse survivors for suicidality. Other results, implications, and limitations of the study are discussed.

Committee Chair

Kamo, Yoshinori

Available for download on Tuesday, May 19, 2026

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