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Anna Mueller

Senior Research Program Leader

(812) 856-1370
IU Bloomington


Mueller’s research examines how social relationships and the social environment shape adolescent health, wellbeing, and academic achievement. Her agenda encompasses 5 major areas – revitalizing the sociology of suicide; examining suicide diffusion in social networks; the social roots of adolescent suicide clusters; adolescent development in context; and inequality in education, health, and suicide. Most recently, her research has focused specifically on youth suicide and suicide clusters and specifically on how mental health stigma shapes risk of suicide and likelihood of help-seeking. Mueller has deep experience conducting field research on youth suicide and strong substantive, theoretical, and methodological expertise that matches key areas of this project. Her research on suicide demonstrates that social relations do more than protect individuals from suicide, through social support. Instead, the cultural norms (including mental health stigma), obligations, and sanctions that flow through social ties and in social groups complicate how the social world shapes vulnerability to suicide. She has leveraged longitudinal survey data and causal modeling strategies and found that experiencing the suicide attempt or death of a friend increased youths’ likelihood of reporting new suicidal thoughts (and for girls, suicide attempts) approximately one year later. Collectively, her studies suggest exposure to suicide attempts or deaths can exacerbate youth’s vulnerability to suicide, in certain circumstances. They also show that having social relationships is not always protective, as they can expose individuals to painful experiences or new ideas that may introduce suicide as an option. Further, because we know little about why suicide clusters form and persist, Mueller initiated an in-depth ethnographic case study of a community with an enduring suicide problem with a long-term collaborator (Abrutyn), finding that several social forces were facilitating the persistence of the suicide problem in this community (e.g., narrow social norms about “ideal” youth and “good” families, prevalent mental health stigma, social connectedness that fomented gossip). More generally, Mueller’s research has shown how peer cultures within schools impact the how youth perceive their own bodies (JHSB 2010) and their academic capabilities (AJS 2008). This work also reveals the importance of social psychological processes to identity formation and motivations for help-seeking (ASR 2016) and academic persistence (AJS 2013). Finally, Mueller examines how inequality emerges in different organizational contexts, through interactions between teachers and students (JGME 2017) and between peers in classrooms (AJE 2014, AJS 2008).