BACKGROUND: Every year, more than six million people lose a loved one through suicide. These bereaved by suicide are at relatively high risk for mental illnesses including suicide. The social stigma attached to suicide often makes it difficult to talk about grief. Participating in online forums may be beneficial for the bereaved by suicide, but it is unknown what they communicate in these forums.
AIMS: What do the bereaved by suicide communicate in online forums? We examined which self-help mechanisms, grief reactions, and experiences with health-care services they shared online.
METHOD: We conducted a content analysis of 1,250 messages from 165 members of two Dutch language forums for the bereaved by suicide.
RESULTS: We found that sharing personal experiences featured most prominently in the messages, often with emotional expressions of grief. Other frequently used self-help mechanisms were expressions of support or empathy, providing advice, and universality (recognition), while experiences with health-care services featured only occasionally. Compared with previous studies about online forums for somatic illnesses, the bereaved by suicide communicated more personal experiences and engaged much less in chitchat.
CONCLUSION: Online forums appear to have relevant additional value as a platform for talking about grief and finding support.