Exploring the therapeutic affordances of self-harm online support communities: an online survey of members

Coulson, Neil S. and Bullock, Emma and Rodham, Karen (2017) Exploring the therapeutic affordances of self-harm online support communities: an online survey of members. JMIR Mental Health, 4 (4). e44/1-e44/11. ISSN 2368-7959

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Abstract

Background: A growing number of online communities have been established to support those who self-harm. However, little is known about the therapeutic affordances arising from engagement with these communities and resulting outcomes.

Objective: The aim of this study was to explore the presence of therapeutic affordances as reported by members of self-harm online support communities.

Methods: In total, 94 respondents (aged 13-63 years, mean=23.5 years; 94% female) completed an online survey exploring their experiences of engaging with a self-harm online support community. Respondents varied in terms of how long they had been accessing an online community, with 22% (21/94) accessing less than 1 year, 39% (37/94) 1 to 2 years, 14% (13/94) 2 to 3 years, and 24.5% (23/94) more than 3 years. Responses were analyzed using deductive thematic analysis.

Results: The results of our analysis describe each of the five therapeutic affordances that were present in the data, namely (1) connection, the ability to make contact with others who self-harm for the purposes of mutual support and in so doing reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation; (2) adaptation, that is, how use of online support varies in relation to the personal circumstances of the individual user; (3) exploration, that is, the ability to learn about self-harm and learn about strategies to reduce or stop self-harming behavior; (4) narration, that is, the ability to share experiences, as well as read about the experiences of others; and (5) self-presentation, that is, how and what users present about themselves to others in the online community.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that engagement with self-harm online support communities may confer a range of therapeutic benefits for some users, which may serve to minimize the psychosocial burden of self-harm and promote positive coping strategies. In addition, the online nature of the support available may be helpful to those who are unable to access face-to-face support.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Copyright © 2017 JMIR Publications
Keywords: Self-harm; Social network; Social support; Qualitative research; Online support group
Schools/Departments: University of Nottingham, UK > Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > School of Medicine > Division of Rehabilitation and Ageing
Identification Number: 10.2196/mental.8084
Depositing User: Coulson, Dr Neil
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2017 08:12
Last Modified: 16 Oct 2017 08:19
URI: http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/47285

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