The International Handbook of Suicide Prevention: Research, Policy and Practice

By Rory C. O’Connor; Jane Pirkis | Go to book overview

43
Suicide Clusters

Jo Robinson, Jane Pirkis, and Rory C. O’Connor


Introduction

This chapter provides an overview of what is known about suicide clusters. It begins with a definition of the various types of suicide cluster including point clusters, mass clusters, and echo clusters. It then describes the prevalence of, and risk factors for, suicide clusters, as well as summarizing the different ways in which clusters are investigated. The chapter then discusses some of the mechanisms thought to underpin the development and maintenance of suicide clusters, including the related processes of contagion and imitation, social integration, and assortative relating and susceptibility. The potential role of the Internet and social media is then briefly summarized. The chapter then goes on to describe a range of approaches designed to prevent and/or reduce the impact of suicide clusters including community resources and postvention responses. Finally, some of the challenges experienced to date are highlighted, along with some suggestions regarding future directions.


Definition of Suicide Clusters

A suicide cluster has commonly been defined as “a group of suicides or suicide attempts, or both, that occur closer together in time and space than would normally be expected on the basis of either statistical prediction or community expectation” (Gould, Wallenstein, & Davidson, 1989; O’Carroll, Mercy, Steward, & Centers for Disease, 1988). However, the minimum number of deaths required to constitute a suicide cluster, and their proximity to each other in terms of both time and space is harder to pinpoint (Haw, Hawton, Niedzwiedz, & Platt, 2013). This is particularly relevant in the modern context, where many relationships exist via online and social-media-based environments, causing us to rethink what we might mean by the term proximity. A more recent definition by Larkin and Beautrais (2012) goes some way to addressing the minimum number of deaths required to constitute a cluster. They define a cluster as “a series of three or more closely grouped deaths … linked by space or social relationships.” However, still there remains no standardized and agreed method for identifying with certainty the existence of a suicide cluster (Cheung, Spittal, Williamson, Tung, & Pirkis, 2013; Neidzwiedz, Haw, Hawton, & Platt, 2014).

The International Handbook of Suicide Prevention, Second Edition. Edited by Rory C. O’Connor and Jane Pirkis. © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2016 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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