Trained as a medical sociologist, her research focuses broadly on how social networks and culture provide insights into health, illness and healing phenomena, and more specifically on four areas – stigma, suicide, health care use, and health care systems. Her concerns have spanned local, national and international questions and problems, primarily targeting mental illness.
In particular, she is concerned with how social and organizational networks facilitate or frustrate people’s responses to problems. In the early 1990s, Pescosolido developed the Network Episode Model, which shifts health care utilization research to understanding patterns and pathways to care, adherence to treatment and the care outcomes. This model has been deployed nationally and internationally in numerous studies and has been expanded to embrace disciplinarity in the Network Embedded Symbiome. Regarding stigma, in 1996 Pescosolido initiated the first major, national study of stigma of mental illness in the U.S. in over 40 years which produced some of the groundwork for the Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health, the 2013 White House Conference on Mental Health, and the 2016 NASEM Report, Ending Discrimination Against People with Mental and Substance Use Disorders: The Evidence for Stigma Change. This was followed by the National Stigma Study–Children, the National Stigma Study–Replications in 2006 and 2018, and the Stigma in Global Context–Mental Health Study. In addition, as Chair of the Scientific Advisory Council of Glenn Close’s Bring Change to Mind advocacy organization, she developed and piloted a 4-year, IU-based, team effort to make college campuses “safe and stigma free zones.” She is currently concerned with moving the contact hypothesis further by coupling both Goffman’s original conceptualization with complex system theory and social network analysis. In the area of suicide research, she has examined claims on the utility of official suicide statistics, the contemporary effects of religious affiliation, and the potential of a network translation of Durkheim’s theory. Currently, using a big data solution, she is working on harmonizing novel data to move past US data barriers on completed suicide to allow a more direct understanding of the role of and potential to leverage social connectedness to reduce the personal, family, and community tragedy and societal loss that is suicide.