Doing ‘being on the edge’: the dilemma of being authentically suicidal in an online forum
This blog post summarises the main themes and concerns highlighted in the 2009 paper ‘Doing being ‘on the edge’: managing the dilemma of being authentically suicidal in an online forum’.
The paper begins by outlining research into suicide and highlights that research into suicidal identities from a discursive perspective has not been widely established. The research demonstrates how discursive psychology can be useful in examining how suicidal identities can be built up in internet interaction. Using discursive psychology, suicidal identities are looked at as an interactional accomplishment, rather than a ‘state of mind’. Suicidal identities were examined in the project as a whole via cross-post analysis, rather than thread-by-thread analysis. For this paper, the focus was on the first posts offered in a thread. The paper investigates the discursive dilemma of presenting oneself on a forum as genuinely suicidal as opposed to ‘not suicidal enough to post’. The key themes that emerged from this research were as follows.
Theme 1: Presenting oneself as ‘authentically suicidal’
In order to gain interaction in a forum like this, posters must build an identity of ‘authentically suicidal’. This can be done in several ways. One way is to ‘tell your story of mental struggles’. We called this a ‘life narrative’ post. These types of post work to convince others that you have struggled for a long time and are genuinely in need of help. Another way is to start a thread with an ‘immediate threat’. Immediate threats position the poster in need of urgent attention. If successful, these threats led to subsequent posters begging initial posters ‘not to go’. It is interesting that people do not actually ask for help, yet describe ‘states of suicidal ideation’ which gains ‘support’.
The paper also looks at a post that did not achieve any replies and explains that the reason for this may be that the person’s story is too clinical and therefore less ‘authentic’. The poster asks for support but in a lively and friendly manner, not in keeping with other posts at all.
Theme 2: Support work in the forum
The paper then moves on to examine second-turn replies. To gain a reply, a poster must construct oneself as ‘actively suicidal’ and work up an identity as ‘more than depressed’, ‘rational’ and not explicitly asking for help. One second-turn poster offers a reconstructing of the first poster’s situation: which helps her move away ‘from the edge’. Second-turn posters often construct themselves as ‘experts’: they have ‘been there’. However, second-turn responses suggest solving a suicidal identity is not simple. Later in the thread, the initial poster in this example still constructs herself as ‘possibly suicidal’ but perhaps in not such immediate danger.
Theme 3: Practical solutions: discursive strategies to deal with suicidal claims
The paper considers how people can be ‘talked back’ from suicidal claims. One successful strategy appears to be reformulating rational ‘reality’ as irrational. In other words, an initial poster will claim that suicide is a rational solution to an impossible situation. By re-constructing this situation, it becomes possible to show how the poster’s story is irrational, leading to a renegotiation of a psychological state. Also, it is important to note that suicide is a very individual thing and not to generalise states in discourse.
Overall, this research is useful those involved in suicidal post-vention. It suggests that in order to support people, strategies such as reformulating irrational claims to rational ones is a helpful strategy, and that in order to offer help, one should construct oneself as knowledgeable and understanding of the situation.
After a break from research, Judith Horne is currently completing a Doctorate in Education on the discursive psychology of student interaction in a Facebook forum. Judith has been teaching for the Open University since 2008 and Forth Valley College since 2004.
World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) 2019 is 10th September 2019. For more information see https://www.iasp.info/wspd2019/ .
For support on issues raised in this article, Samaritans can be contacted for free by phone on 116 123, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is available at: https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/