College of Arts and Sciences

Globalization and Adolescent Well-Being in the South Pacific

First Mondays Series

Hal Odden, anthropologyHal Odden, assistant professor of anthropology

April 2, 2012

Rapid social, cultural, and economic change has been associated with a wide range of mental and behavioral health problems in adolescents and young adults, including alcohol and drug abuse, suicidal behaviors, and violence in places as varied as China, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and the South Pacific.  Although we might intuitively see a connection between exposure to a rapidly changing world and individual distress, the actual mechanisms connecting the two remains elusive and are likely quite complex.  We know that there is considerable variation in the types of risks to young people’s well-being from one society to the next, even when these societies are undergoing very similar kinds of social changes.  Additionally, some individuals exhibit surprising resilience in the face of substantial change and others find great opportunities for advancement, both of which suggest that change is not inherently distressing.  

Odden discussed these issues with reference to his ongoing research in the Western Pacific society of Samoa. Samoa is of particular interest to these debates, because there are clear signs of adolescent distress, most notably in that Samoa has one of the very highest global rates of adolescent suicide for the past several decades. Odden reviewed some of the models and talked about his research on drug use, suicidal behaviors, spirit possession, migration and identity in young Samoans.