Methods: This online ethnography completed analysis of publicly available archival data ranging from 2020-2021 located on a social media forum for current and former U.S. Air Force members. Data collection solely consisted of archival posts made under online pseudonyms and no direct contact or engagement was made with forum members. The qualitative analysis implemented an observation of 100 archival posts and 3,211 comments addressing the topic of suicide. Research design was guided by the LiLEDDA method, with the implementation of inductive coding processes including open, descriptive, and pattern techniques. Posting content ranged from text to images and video. Postings were copied directly from the online forum and transferred to NVivo qualitative software for coding.
Results: Analysis yielded four primary themes: 1) fear of an unknown future, which manifests through uncertainty in where organizational needs supersede an individual’s ability to continue military service. This is compounded by fear of losing either stability or status because of seeking out support. 2) Supportive community processes, in which online communication subverts cultural and structural barriers to facilitate engagement and connection. 3) A shifting mental health culture, where stigma is driven by structural factors rather than internalized beliefs of weakness. Active attempts are made to encourage engagement with available resources. 4) Resource strain, where limitations across systems facilitate individual stressors.
Conclusion and Implications: Findings support the need for incorporating cultural and structural perspectives when addressing suicide prevention among military members and veterans. Forum members seek out online support for the benefits of shared community understanding, absent the cultural and structural demands that may perpetuate various forms of stigma. The implications for this research study include a highlighted need for further study of digital spaces and interventions that leverage the use of social media. Developing prevention strategy that reflects systemic factors influencing suicide is critical.