A Thematic Analysis of an Online Suicide Forum. Exploring the Relevance of Durkheim’s Typology of Suicide




McCartan, Delaney

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In 1897 Emile Durkheim theorized that the risk of suicide is related to social factors; mainly the levels of regulation and social integration an individual adheres to. Throughout the continuing century, suicide contagion was examined from a behavioural contagion perspective of studying newsprint distribution and media reports of suicide-based topics in relation to suicide rates within a community. With decades in passing between both of these conceptualizations, society has shifted as individuals are more willing to discuss their motivating factors for contemplating suicide online on social networking sites rather than offline in the physical world. Thus arose the questions: What are the various motivating factors online users mention for wanting to commit suicide and how do these motivations correspond to Durkheim’s typology of suicide. In regards to the behavioural contagion theory, does an online suicide forum have the potential to enable a suicide contagion?  I thematically analyzed posts from 95 online users from a suicide-based forum “I Want to Commit Suicide” from the website “The Experience Project.” My findings indicate an association between the motivating factors participants discuss and Durkheim’s typology of suicide. Moreover, there was an association between online user’s responses to other users’ original posts and the behavioural contagion theory. Various online users’ comments were identified as encouraging other users to commit suicide by either identifying a plausible suicide method or engaging in discussions of being a suicide partner. This pervasive distribution of encouraging material indicates the need for future research to be conducted on suicide-based online forums to address consequences of such enabling material. My findings highlight the need for better preventative measures to be sought in order to bridge the gap between what is said online and that which is discussed offline.



suicide, Emile Durkheim, behavioural contagion theory, suicide prevention, social networks, online communities, suicide contagion