Supportive interchanges and face-work as ‘protective talk’ in an online self-harm support forum

Authors

  • Siobhan Sharkey Peninsula College of Medicine & Dentistry
  • Janet Smithson University of Exeter
  • Elaine Hewis Independent lecturer
  • Ray Jones University of Plymouth
  • Tobit Emmens Devon Partnership NHS Trust Peninsula Medical School
  • Tamsin Ford Peninsula Medical School, University of Exeter
  • Christabel Owens Devon Partnership NHS Trust Peninsula Medical School, University of Exeter

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/cam.v9i1.71

Keywords:

communication, face-work, Internet research, mitigation, self-harm, support forums

Abstract

Within a context of concern about inappropriate advice-giving online, we examined how young people who self-harm behave online, and how professionals might engage with them. We use Discourse Analysis to focus on participant interactions (posts) from a forum’s crisis/support rooms, and highlight the prevalence of disclaimers, hedges, questions and tags in the young people’s online interactions. We use the concept of facework as a framework to help understand interactions in the forum SharpTalk. The findings demonstrate the use of a range of mitigation devices, and suggest that the young people orientate to a ‘protective’ line in their supportive interactions. These findings echo Goffman’s (1967) ‘supportive interchanges’ in that the young people’s online interactions may help to preserve face, in an emotionally complex setting, whose vulnerable members also need ‘protective’ and sensitive support. Taking this ‘line’ may enable members to create a more open and trusting context for support, and to remain in a forum which they find both helpful and challenging. In light of concerns about online support, the findings provide a new perspective on online peer-support for young people who self-harm.

Author Biographies

Siobhan Sharkey, Peninsula College of Medicine & Dentistry

Siobhan Sharkey is a PenCLAHRC research fellow at the Peninsula Medical School, University of Exeter. Her main research interest is using qualitative methodologies in collaborative health research. Her most recent research and publications focus on young people who self-harm; online support and the use of ethnographic perspectives in investigating key components of health practice.

Janet Smithson, University of Exeter

Janet Smithson is a research fellow at the University of Exeter. Her main research interests include gender and discourse, work-life practices and policies, life course transitions, qualitative methodologies, internet-mediated discourse and communication.

Elaine Hewis, Independent lecturer

a self-employed trainer and lecturer in mental health in Exeter, UK. She brings the lived and caring experience to all aspects of her work

Ray Jones, University of Plymouth

Ray Jones is Professor of Health Informatics at the University of Plymouth. His research is in e-health, particularly how patients/public use the Internet. His interests include tailoring information to individuals, user-led learning, and initiatives to address the ‘digital divide’. With a public health background, he has used a variety of methods: soft systems, surveys, and quantitative methods including randomized trials.

Tobit Emmens, Devon Partnership NHS Trust Peninsula Medical School

Tobit Emmens is Head of Research Management and Innovation, Devon Partnership NHS Trust and University Fellow at Peninsula Medical School. His work includes technology, social media, Internet safety (particularly relating to vulnerable young adults), suicide and self-harm and the provision of mental health services in the changing NHS landscape. He has collaborative links with Berkman Center for Internet and Society (Harvard Law School).

Tamsin Ford, Peninsula Medical School, University of Exeter

Tamsin Ford is clinical senior lecturer in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Peninsula Medical School, University of Exeter. Her research interests include Epidemiology and Health Services Research. She obtained her PhD at the Institute of Psychiatry, and then was awarded a MRC Clinician Scientist fellowship to study outcomes in relation to child mental health services.

Christabel Owens, Devon Partnership NHS Trust Peninsula Medical School, University of Exeter

Christabel Owens is Principal Healthcare Scientist at Devon Partnership NHS Trust, and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Peninsula Medical School, University of Exeter. Her main research interest is in suicide and self-harm, using qualitative methodologies.

Published

2013-02-19

How to Cite

Sharkey, S., Smithson, J., Hewis, E., Jones, R., Emmens, T., Ford, T., & Owens, C. (2013). Supportive interchanges and face-work as ‘protective talk’ in an online self-harm support forum. Communication and Medicine, 9(1), 71-82. https://doi.org/10.1558/cam.v9i1.71

Issue

Section

Articles