Suicide Clusters: interpersonal contagion or collective demoralization?

Monday 16 November 2020
logo of the National Webinars on Suicide Prevention

Speaker: Michel Tousignant, PhD, Researcher, CRISE and Associate Professor, Psychology Department, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)

Overview of the webinar

An analysis of 14 point-cluster suicides in Quebec, four of them among First Nations, showed that the nature of interpersonal influence between deceased cannot be explained by contagion in the strict sense of the term. The factors behind these outbreaks are more akin to a noxious social climate with a despairing effect on the most vulnerable individuals and leading to a bleak view of their future. The data were collected from police enquiries, friends, family members, health professionals, and local leaders. Using an operational definition of direct causality between two suicides such as a maximum time period and the absence of another serious event, it was found that a minority of suicides met these criteria. The interviews and the messages left by the suicides lead to conclude that a climate of toxic morale in the community or within a sub-group is more instrumental than the interpersonal influences in the outbreak of a suicide cluster. This climate is characterized by well documented structural changes to a traditional way of life (fishing, hunting, logging industry), a demographic loss (Quebec sites) consecutive to the departure of young families and youth leaving to study outside, a lack of communication between generations, all these changes creating a feeling of a dead-end situation to those left behind. A suicide prevention policy should therefore focus on the revival of these communities as well as providing support to those more at risk.

This webinar is also available in French: Séries de suicide: phénomène de contagion interpersonnelle ou de démoralisation collective?

About the National Webinars on Suicide Prevention 2020

This webinar was presented in the context of the National Webinars on Suicide Prevention, on October 28, 2020. This virtual event was co-organized by the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP), the Association québécoise de prévention du suicide (AQPS) and the Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide, Ethical Issues and End-of-Life Practices (CRISE).