Responding to suicidal ideations in online peer support groups
Boehm, Nick, author
Switzer, Jamie, advisor
Sivakumar, Gaya, committee member
Crowley, John, committee member
This study examines if moderated online peer groups for those suffering from suicidal ideations differ than non-moderated online peer groups in three ways: the frequency of pro-suicide response, the frequency of non-civil and impolite response, and the frequency of therapeutic response strategies. The study begins with a literature review that addresses how the Internet may affect peer support to those who suffer from suicidal ideations as well as the difference between therapeutic responses and non-therapeutic responses. The online disinhibition effect suggests Internet communication can succumb to pro-suicide discussion as well as non-civil and impolite discussion easier than face-to-face communication due to the unique qualities of Internet communication. However, a substantial amount of evidence also suggests the Internet could be an ideal medium to provide support for suicidal individuals if done correctly. The method for the study was devised by extracting content categories from a study done by Gilat, Tobin & Shahar (2012) that examined the difference between non-therapeutic responses and therapeutic responses via phone conversations with trained volunteers and lay-persons. Similarly, the study extracted content categories from a study by Rowe (2014) that examined the differences between the level of anonymity in websites with the frequency of non-civil and impolite discussion. A content analysis was conducted on one moderated website containing online peer support groups for those suffering from suicidal ideations as well as one non-moderated website containing online peer support groups for those suffering from suicidal ideations. The study found pro-suicide responses to be substantially more frequent on the non-moderated peer groups than on the moderated peer groups. Additionally, the study found non-civil and impolite responses to be more frequent on the non-moderated peer groups than on the moderated peer groups. Both pro-suicide responses as well as non-civil and impolite responses were significantly greater in response type diversity in the non-moderated peer groups than on the moderated peer groups. Lastly, the moderated peer groups contained almost twice as many therapeutic responses than the non-moderated peer groups suggesting theoretical support for Bandura's social cognitive theory. The study suggests the type of support received online will heavily depend on the nature of the website. In addition to peers, having trained volunteers respond to suicidal ideations may increase the number of therapeutic response strategies. Additionally, having designated group moderators could be a better way to counter the disinhibition effect than relying on self-policing.
Includes bibliographical references.