Date of Award

Summer 2020

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Mark Weist

Abstract

Suicide is an increasing public health concern in adolescents and young adults, and many individuals discuss mental health concerns with friends in lieu of professional avenues. Thus, peers can serve as valuable gatekeepers for friends experiencing suicidality. The prevalence of social networking websites means that individuals are likely to encounter suicidal disclosures on the internet, but little research has investigated if young adults possess the skills and motivation to intervene in these contexts. Additionally, there have been virtually no investigations into how the presence of other online users impacts intervention behavior—in short, if there exists a bystander effect. This study investigated the bystander effect on intervention behaviors for disclosures of suicidality via social networking websites, as well as the impact of the severity of the statement on the bystander effect and intervention behavior. Participants were asked to view a simulated Facebook page which included a mock post that contained either an explicit or an ambiguous suicidal disclosure that was witnessed by either no bystanders, nonsupportive bystanders, or supportive bystanders. Results indicated that participants were significantly more likely to provide higher-quality responses to an explicitly suicidal statement than to an ambiguously suicidal statement. Participants who observed the suicidal post in the absence of bystanders were significantly more likely to respond and provide higher-quality responses to the post than if bystanders were present. Higher levels of perceived behavioral control in intervening with a suicidal individual were also associated with higher-quality responses. These findings have important implications for research, suicide prevention program development, and clinical practice.

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