Pescosolido, whose research and teaching focus on social issues in health, illness and healing, also is only the 30th faculty member elected to the National Academy of Sciences in the university’s history. The last IU faculty member elected to the organization was cognitive psychologist Linda B. Smith in 2019.
The National Academy of Sciences, established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, recognizes achievement in science by election to its membership. Along with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine, it provides science, engineering and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.
Pescosolido was one of the 120 new members and 30 international members that the academy announced on April 26. Members are selected in recognition of their distinguished and ongoing achievements in original research.
“Bernice is one of IU’s most highly accomplished scholars and researchers,” Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie said. “For several decades, she has led pioneering work on social issues in health, illness and healing, which has led to major insights into the underlying roots of mental health stigma and the role that complex social and organizational networks play in how people recognize and respond to health problems. She is also a leading sociological researcher on suicide, drawing from the same insights that have driven her work on the influence of community on individuals’ use of health care.
“Through her renowned scholarship and distinguished teaching, she has ensured that her IU faculty colleagues and her students are contributing to the national agenda on health and health care. She is also bringing great distinction to IU and to the IU Network Science Institute, as she helps IU advance its mission of addressing the complex challenges facing our society through high-impact research, rigorous investigation and multidisciplinary collaboration. As someone who has blazed numerous new paths in her fields of study, she is highly deserving of this major honor, and it is most fitting that she be recognized with the enormous distinction of being the first and so far only IU faculty member in the university’s more than 200-year history to be elected to two of the three national academies.”
Pescosolido launched the first major national study of the stigma of mental illness in the U.S. in over 40 years. Pescosolido and colleagues are developing a model on the underlying roots of stigma; the goal is to provide a scientific foundation for new efforts to alter this barrier to care. They are also finishing a set of papers based on the first national study of stigma toward children with mental health problems.
Her research on suicide has examined the utility of official suicide statistics, and the way that religion and family ties can protect or push individuals to suicide as a solution to problems. For example, her research found how similarities among individuals living in the same communities can dramatically change their risk of dying by suicide. Currently, Pescosolido and researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working to bring together the best insights from psychiatric and sociological research on suicide.
“Bernice is an original thinker and a dynamic force in all aspects of her work,” said Rick Van Kooten, executive dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Her influential body of research on human health and illness has blazed new trails in her own discipline of sociology and well beyond. She achieves the highest standards of intellectual rigor in her work, coupled with a career-long passion for asking questions and finding insights that have real potential to improve our health and lives, and change the way we think.
“She is a revered colleague and generous mentor to students here in the College, and we are proud and thrilled see her honored with this important distinction.”