Dr. Yunyu Xiao, a 2020 graduate of NYU Silver’s PhD Program who is now an Assistant Professor at Indiana University School of Social Work, has received NYU’s 2021 Outstanding Dissertation Award in the Public Health and Allied Health category for “Social Network Influences on Trajectories of Suicidal Behaviors Among Adolescents Transitioning to Adulthood.” NYU Provost Katherine E. Fleming said Dr. Xiao’s dissertation “stood out from other nominees’ for its great scholarly rigor, quality of writing, and potential for academic and social impact.”
Dr. Xiao’s award-winning dissertation addresses the important public health issue of suicide, which is the second leading cause of death among individuals aged 10-34 in the United States. In particular, she focused on identifying substantial disparities in suicidal thoughts and behaviors that exist across race/ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status in this age group. “While much existing research is cross-sectional and studied static suicidal behaviors in one-time point,” Dr. Xiao explained, “I took a life course perspective and examined the trajectories of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts ‒ that is, changes in suicide risks from adolescence to adulthood. More innovatively, I integrated the Network Episode Model in explaining the social network influences on suicidal trajectories over time. I further explored how future orientation may buffer the negative effect when kids had a low closeness to parents.”
Dr. Xiao’s dissertation contains three interrelated studies, two of which have been published to date. Study 1, published in Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, identifies the changes in suicidal behaviors from adolescence to young adulthood and sociodemographic disparities in the suicidal trajectories. Study 2, published in Psychological Medicine, examines the effects of structural and functional types of social networks during adolescence on suicidal trajectories across sociodemographic backgrounds. Study 3 (under review) investigates how changes in social network profiles over developmental stages influence suicidal trajectories. This study also explores the protective effect of future orientation in the above association.
Among the key findings of Dr. Xiao’s dissertation research were that female, Black, and sexual minority adolescents were more likely to be in high-risk suicidal trajectories across life stages; a greater family cohesion reduced the chance of adolescents reporting suicide risks over time; people with low values of parental closeness during early adolescence and whose parental closeness decreased quickly over time had more chance to be in high-risk suicidal trajectories; and having a future orientation can protect against the negative impact of low parental closeness on high-risk suicidal trajectories, especially for Black and Hispanic populations.
Associate Professor and PhD Program Director Victoria Stanhope applauded Dr. Xiao’s honor. “Yunyu is richly deserving of this prestigious recognition. She has a deep commitment to her work reflected in the rigor of her research and its potential to provide solutions to one of the country’s most pressing public health crises. Her dissertation’s identification of disparities in suicidal trajectories and the influence of social networks and future orientation on those trajectories will improve suicide assessments in critical time periods and inform the design of more effective, culturally appropriate, strength-based suicide interventions.”
Dr. Xiao expressed gratitude to NYU Silver’s PhD Program and her dissertation committee for their support and encouragement throughout her dissertation process. In particular, she said “I am grateful to my committee chair and mentor, Dr. Michael A. Lindsey, who has been a role model educating me on the importance of social work researchers to bring social impact. I also want to give special thanks Dr. Victoria Stanhope for her patience and kindness that helped me achieve the best during my doctoral study. As an Asian immigrant, the global pandemic and current political unrest, Anti-Asian racism, and structural inequality further motivate me to contribute to the health disparity research. I am honored to receive this university-wide award, and I am committed to improve the scientific rigor of public health social work studies and bring impact to improve the lives of those vulnerable populations.”