Social media and suicide
: an exploration of online suicide note content and negative emotional disclosure

  • Chelsea Leadley

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores the disclosure of mental health and suicide ideation on social media. Two key areas are explored. The first half examines seeking support and making online negative emotional or mental health (NEMH) disclosures. The final communication in online suicide notes is reviewed in the second half. An online survey was first utilised to explore the prevalence, brief reasons for, and outcomes of disclosures on four social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. Data from this provided the structure for follow-up interviews with survey respondents.

Survey findings suggested that these disclosures and seeking support through social media were common. Common reasons for support seeking are related to the audience reached, whereas reasons for NEMH disclosures are associated with raising awareness, updating close relationships, or venting feelings. A mental health diagnosis and a high likelihood of seeking online emotional support significantly predicted disclosures. Support-seeking and disclosure responses from the audience were generally positive and supportive. They positively impacted the poster. Interview themes outlined three stages in making these disclosures: precursors, outcomes, and appraisals. Precursors encompassed elements leading to the decision. Outcomes included all themes related to what happened following this. The third stage, appraisals, involved looking back at decisions and experiences and how these impacted current online sharing.

A systematic review of handwritten suicide note content suggested a general structure represented by five thematic clusters was present in suicide notes: practical elements, construction of the self, construction of other, constructing the suicide, and emotional tone. The content of handwritten notes in this thesis primarily reflected this, though emotional tone was not generated due to more specific coding. These four thematic clusters were also found in the online suicide notes, with the addition of online specific features. Facebook suicide notes were found to have significantly fewer themes related to practical elements and negative construction of the self but significantly more related to constructing the suicide decision. Overall, Facebook suicide notes were more focused, with a lower prevalence of several key themes, indicating they are likely to address multiple issues or topics. Handwritten suicide notes, however, seemed to relate more to concerns about other people. Areas for future research highlighted by this thesis include the audience's impact on online self-disclosure in more detail, as this was a common theme in both surveys and interviews. Further exploration of the three-stage decision-making process developed in chapter 5, as outlined above. In addition, a more sophisticated analysis of theme co-occurrence in online suicide notes is also needed. To conclude, strengths and limitations are discussed.
Date of Award25 Oct 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorNadia Ali (Main Supervisor)

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