Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Agriculture, Food and Environment


Family Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Jason D. Hans


Although research has shown that mental-health stigma can impact an individual’s well-being, little is known about who perpetrates suicide stigma. Moreover, anticipation of stigma could impact whether individuals disclose their suicidal experiences; yet, little is known about suicide disclosure and how family members’ reactions play a role in subsequent mental health. To address these gaps, three studies were designed to examine how stigma, suicide disclosure, and family reaction impact subsequent mental health of attempt survivors and those who have experience suicidal ideation.

Individuals who had previously experienced suicidal ideation or a previous suicide attempt (n = 156) were recruited through the American Association of Suicidology. Results indicated that attempt survivors were more likely to experience stigma from non-mental health providers and social network members than from mental health providers. A hierarchical standard regression model including both source and type of stigma accounted for more variance (ΔR2 = .08) in depression symptomology than a model with only type of stigma.

Results from respondents who had experienced a nonfatal suicide attempt in the past 10 years (n = 74) indicated that family reaction mediated the relationship between suicide disclosure and depression symptoms (B = -4.83, 95% BCa CI [-11.67, -1.33]). Higher rates of disclosure statistically predicted more positive family reactions (B = 4.81, p = .013) and more positive family reactions statistically predicted less severe depression symptoms (B = -1.00, p = .002).

Interpretive phenomenological techniques were used to analyze follow-up interviews (n = 40) with attempt survivors. Individuals’ reactions to suicide disclosure offered insight for attempt survivors’ regarding their place in society. More specifically, reactions impacted the degrees to which attempt survivors felt that they belonged within their social group and whether they were a burden to their loved ones.

Given these results, the potential contributions of family scientists to the field of suicidology are examined. Specifically, researchers have primarily examined suicide as an individual phenomenon; family scientists are ideally suited for examining the family’s role after an attempt occurs. However, family science must also make the transition to viewing suicide as a family experience.