Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Communication Studies

Committee Chair

Karen Weiss

Committee Co-Chair

Walter DeKeseredy

Committee Member

Melissa Latimer


LGBTQ individuals, especially youth, are one of the top groups at risk for suicide. They experience social stigma and discrimination which diminishes their access to common support resources, causing many to turn to online communities for support for common issues. This paper utilizes qualitative content analysis guided by the stress-buffering model of the social support theory to investigate the helpfulness of informal social support responses in buffering stress in the suicidal individuals on This model is based on the buffering hypothesis which asserts that persons with high stress and low support will show disproportionately elevated symptomatology, and that higher levels of support helps to "buffer" stress. Evidence of stress-buffering is based on whether the type of support, or functioning buffer mechanisms, provided by responders matches the help-seeking individuals' needs. There were three categories of needs: emotional need, informational need, and both needs. All 36 sample threads were found to have matched responses, and therefore, overall support provided in this forum for suicidal individuals is evaluated as helpful in buffering stress. Variations within emotional and informational support are discussed. In addition, other themes emerged from the data through the coding and analysis process. These themes included evidence of serving as a true community, that forum members have awareness of suicide, mental health, and of the limitations on their ability to offer support through the internet, and that professional resources are limited in providing social support to isolated individuals. Moreover, there were many issues encountered through applying the stress-buffering matching model qualitatively. These issues are discussed in depth and point to the conclusion that human interactions, especially those online, are too complex for such a simple and vague model of analysis to fully encompass. A critique of the stress-buffering model will also be provided.