Methods: We collected 13,967 posts in r/suicidewatch from March 2019-Feb 2020, and compared these with 16,108 posts from Mar 2020-Feb 2021. We used the keywords “school” and “teacher” to sort student’s posts out. We employed sentiment analysis to capture the difference of tone between the pre-COVID (post) and post-COVID (pre) datasets and the change of emotion-related words using the psycho-linguistic lexicon LIWC. Independent t-tests were conducted to see differences between pre- and post-samples. Then, we utilized the frequency of bigrams using TF-IDF to find emergent risk factors in post-samples. Finally, to capture the disparity between the needs of online help-seeking and peer-support, we analyzed the percentage of posts without any comment and average number of replies in two terms.
Results: We found that the trend-only (t) model by month explains 46.7% of the number of posts, indicating a significant increase in the number of suicide postings among students since the pandemic started. On average, post-samples show more negative-emotion words than pre-ones (pre = 4.36, post = 4.51, p < 0.1), along with an increase in anger (pre = 1.49, post = 1.57, p < 0.001). Regarding risk factors, post-samples used less social words and friends words, but more health/illness, sexuality, and present-focus and risk-focus words (p < 0.05). TF-IDF results indicated that the terms related to COVID-19 (online school, failing classes, stay home) emerged in post-samples. However, the percentage of posts without any peer-support reply has increased from 14.2% to 24.5%, along with the decrease in the average number of replies from 4.22 to 3.95.
Conclusions/Implications: The result can fill the gap in empirical research between COVID-19 and suicidal thoughts among students by analyzing the number of posts and their contents. We also identified the linguistic factors of suicidal ideators seeking help online. Finally, the mismatch in peer support implies that there is a disparity between the demand for online help-seeking and peer support in the suicide help-seeking community, indicating the need for social workers to consider online outreach strategies in order to lead online help-seekers to professional help-seeking.