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Stepping back from crisis points : the provision and acknowledgement of support in an online suicide discussion forum

Wiggins, Sarah and McQuade, Robert Michael and Rasmussen, Susan (2016) Stepping back from crisis points : the provision and acknowledgement of support in an online suicide discussion forum. Qualitative Health Research, 26 (9). pp. 1240-1251. ISSN 1049-7323

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Abstract

Suicide is a global health concern, though little is known about the social practices that might support those who are contemplating suicide. Online forums provide a unique insight into the anonymous discussion of suicide, including sociocultural norms about suicide and the delicate management of online interaction. This article examines the provision and acknowledgement of support in an online discussion forum about suicide, using discursive psychology to analyse the textual interaction. The analysis illustrates how forum threads function as case studies, and enable members to gain support on numerous occasions. In this way, members can gain help at crisis points as and when these occur, while still maintaining authenticity as a valid forum member. The analysis also provides additional evidence for models of suicide which highlight the fluid nature of suicidality and contributes to the preventative work on suicide by demonstrating how support can be provided at crisis points. 2 Suicidal behaviours represent a global public health concern and substantial research effort has gone into identifying specific risk and protective factors (e.g., O'Connor & Nock, 2014) . The rise of technology provides a unique opportunity to examine suicidal issues in online spaces (Mishara & Kerkhof, 2013) , yet research to date has focused mainly on the motivations and individual characteristics of those using the internet for this purpose, rather than on the social practices in the online spaces themselves. Following Horne and Wiggins (2009) and Paulus and Varga (2015), this article focuses on the provision and acknowledgement of support in an o nline suicide di scussion forum. Specifically, the aim of this article is to explicate the interactional features of support in the suicide forums, and of the potential for members to be supported by others by being metaphorically talked back from the ‘edge’; i.e., representing a shift from being at a crisis point to a stance that might still be troubled but is not immediately suicidal. As such, the article provides additional empirical support for discursive accounts of managing health identities online as well as demonstrating the potential of qualitative analyses to contribute to preventative work on suicide