UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Reddit Users’ Experiences of Suicidal Thoughts During the COVID-19 Pandemic : A Qualitative Analysis of r/Covid19_support Posts Slemon, Allie; McAuliffe, Corey; Goodyear, Trevor; McGuinness, Liza; Shaffer, Elizabeth; Jenkins, Emily K.

Abstract

Background: The COVID-19 pandemic is having considerable impacts on population-level mental health, with research illustrating an increased prevalence in suicidal thoughts due to pandemic stressors. While the drivers of suicidal thoughts amid the pandemic are poorly understood, qualitative research holds great potential for expanding upon projections from pre-pandemic work and nuancing emerging epidemiological data. Despite calls for qualitative inquiry, there is a paucity of qualitative research examining experiences of suicidality related to COVID-19. The use of publicly available data from social media offers timely and pertinent information into ongoing pandemic-related mental health, including individual experiences of suicidal thoughts. Objective: To examine how Reddit users within the r/COVID19_support community describe their experiences of suicidal thoughts amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: This study draws on online posts from within r/COVID19_support that describe users’ suicidal thoughts during and related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Data were collected from creation of this subreddit on February 12, 2020 until December 31, 2020. A qualitative thematic analysis was conducted to generate themes reflecting users’ experiences of suicidal thoughts. Results: A total of 83 posts from 57 users were included in the analysis. Posts described a range of users’ lived and living experiences of suicidal thoughts related to the pandemic, including deterioration in mental health and complex emotions associated with suicidal thinking. Reddit users situated their experiences of suicidal thoughts within various pandemic stressors: social isolation, employment and finances, virus exposure and COVID-19 illness, uncertain timeline of the pandemic, news and social media, pre-existing mental health conditions, and lack of access to mental health resources. Some users described individual coping strategies and supports used in attempt to manage suicidal thoughts, however these were recognized as insufficient for addressing the multilevel stressors of the pandemic. Conclusions: Multiple and intersecting stressors have contributed to individuals’ experiences of suicidal thoughts amid the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring thoughtful and complex public health responses. While ongoing challenges exist with self-disclosure of mental health challenges on social media, Reddit and other online platforms may offer a space for users to share suicidal thoughts and discuss potential coping strategies.

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Attribution 4.0 International

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