Exploring social media connectedness as perceived by young people: A constructed grounded theory of online engagement and early intervention prior to suicidal behaviour

  • James Gallagher

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Aims: To explore how social media can be used to foster an effective connection for potential early intervention in suicide prevention and to construct a subsequent theory grounded in the perceptions of young people.

Theoretical Perspective: A hybrid theoretical position was adopted for this study, linking the initial workings of Durkheim (2002 [1897]) with contemporary psychological models of suicide (Joiner, 2005; O’Connor, 2011 and Klonsky and May, 2015); underpinned by the theory of human relatedness (Hegarty et al. 1993).

Method: This qualitative study incorporated a Constructivist Grounded Theory methodology (Charmaz, 2014) across three stages. Stage One: 15 Focus groups explored how young people (n=119) used social media and whether it enhanced a sense of belonging during times of emotional difficulty. Stage Two: Individual Interviews (n=20) explored how young people experienced social media when feeling suicidal and whether the experience enhanced their sense of connectedness. Stage Three: Integration of findings to develop a theory for early intervention and engagement prior to suicidal behaviour.

Findings: Social media connectedness can act as an early intervention and protective buffer against suicide ideation for young people when seven conditions (Control, Authenticity, Power, Understanding, Maintenance, Time and Proximity) that influence the degree of connection are present. The severity of experienced suicidality was key. Online presence would likely remain or increase with low-moderate suicidal ideation; moderate to severe suicide intention would most likely see withdrawal from social media.

Conclusions: The constructed theory from this study details how effective online connectedness can facilitate help-seeking behaviour during the early stages of suicide ideation. The insight provided by the young people contributes to the extant knowledge base, highlighting opportunities for future social media-based prevention in the broader Suicidology field.
Date of AwardJun 2018
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsDepartment of Education and Learning (DEL)
SupervisorHugh Mc Kenna (Supervisor) & Felicity Hasson (Supervisor)

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