Suffering Alone Together: An Analysis of Anonymity, Suicide Discourse, and Social Support in an Online Community
AuthorStill, Darla Marie
AdvisorBreiger, Ronald L.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction, presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractIn this dissertation, I employ a mixed methods approach to investigate how people seek online help for suicide (i.e., being suicidal or suicidal others), the contexts they write about, and how people provide support. This dissertation analyzes structural sources of misery (defined as painful emotions, such as sadness, anxiety, and depression) and suicidal behavior, the role of anonymity in the presentation of self in online help-seeking for suicide, and the provision of online social support in response to suicidal behavior. The locus for my research is the online community SuicideWatch (SW) on the Reddit platform. I employ computational (“big data”), qualitative, and quantitative analyses of textual data collected from SW.Placing the literatures of medical sociology, suicidology, and cultural sociology in conversation, this dissertation engages an analysis of public online suicide discourse within a support community to highlight new mediums for help-seeking in the case of stigma. I highlight the reasons people are considering suicide and identify structural sources of misery by analyzing texts concerning people who sought online support. To better understand online contexts, this work focuses on discourse and identity. By emphasizing the study of how people discuss suicide online, with special focus on the contexts in which people discuss with others their thoughts and intents about suicide, this dissertation makes key contributions to the literature. I investigated the following research questions: Is anonymity important for seeking online social support? How do people write about suicide online? What are the structural sources of misery and suicidal behavior? What online help-seeking strategies do people employ? How do online support communities respond to general expressions of misery and explicit suicidal behavior? I developed hypotheses by engaging with the literature reviewed in this dissertation. For each major topic studied--the structural sources of misery and suicidal behavior, the role of anonymity in online help-seeking, online help-seeking strategies, and the provision of online social support-- this dissertation contributes to understandings of broad concepts: identity in the case of anonymity, help-seeking in the online context for suicide, and social support in the online context for suicide. Results from computational, qualitative, and quantitative analyses in this dissertation provide insight and evidence of new forms of help-seeking and social support, as these relate to stigma and suicide. Further, findings from this research illustrate the importance of anonymity during a time of crisis. The contributions of this dissertation highlight the need for continued suicide research as it relates to online contexts. I provide theoretical explanations for how people go online to seek help. I argue that anonymity is important in the case of stigma, specifically with respect to instances of suicidal expression. People fear seeking help from their personal networks because of the stigma associated with being suicidal. In examining why people are suicidal, I demonstrate that people share narratives that highlight structural sources of misery. People discuss financial, educational, and social tie strains that contribute to misery or psychological pain. Finally, this dissertation demonstrates, as public health officials have pointed out, that increased suicide rates across age, gender, and race categories, as well as the concepts of suicide and suicidality, need to be understood in relation to unique experiences embedded within social structural categories.
Degree ProgramGraduate College