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Online Talk About Mental Health  

Joyce Lamerichs and Wyke Stommel

There is a need to focus on research conducted on online talk about mental health in the domains of ethnomethodology, Conversation Analysis (CA), Discursive Psychology (DP), and Membership Categorization Analysis (MCA). We use the notion of “talk” in this article, as opposed to what could be considered a more common term such as “discourse,” to highlight that we approach computer-mediated discourse as inherently interactional. It is recipient designed and unfolds sequentially, responding to messages that have come before and building a context for messages that are constructed next. We will refer to the above domains that all share this view as CA(-related) approaches. A characterizing feature of interactional approaches to online mental health talk is their focus on in-depth analyses of relatively small amounts of data. With this focus at the center of their attention, they sit in the wider field of Discourse Analysis (DA), or Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis (CMDA) who use language as their lens to understand human interaction. DA and CMDA research include a much wider set of both micro- and macro-analytic language-focused approaches to capture online discourse. Of all the CA(-related) work on online materials, a disproportionally large number of studies appear to deal with (mental) health talk. We aim to answer the question what the field of research on online mental health talk has yielded in terms of findings and methodologies. Centrally, CA (-related) studies of online mental health talk have aimed to grasp the actions people accomplish and the identities they invoke when they address their health concerns. Examples of actions in online mental health talk in particular are presenting oneself, describing a problem, or offering advice. Relevant questions for the above approaches that consider language-as-social-action are how these different actions are brought off and how they are received, by closely examining contributions such as e-mail and chat postings and their subsequent responses. With a focus on talk about mental health, this article will cover studies of online support groups (OSGs, also called online communities), and interaction in online counseling programs, mainly via online chat sessions. This article is organized as follows. In the historiography, we present an overview of CA(-related) work on online mental health talk. We discuss findings from studies of online support groups (OSGs) first and then move to results from studies on online counseling. The start of our historiography section, however, sets out to briefly highlight how the Internet may offer several particularly attractive features for those with mental health problems or a mental illness. After the historiography, we discuss what an interactional approach of online mental health talk looks like and focuses on. We offer examples of empirical studies to illustrate how written contributions to a forum, and e-mails or chat posts that are part of online counseling sessions are examined as interaction and which types of findings this results in. We conclude with a review of methodological issues that pertain to the field, address the most important ethical considerations that come into play when examining online mental health talk, and will lastly highlight some areas for future research.


Publics Approaches to Health and Risk Message Design and Processing  

James E. Grunig and Jeong-Nam Kim

The concept of publics and related notions such as receivers, audiences, stakeholders, mass, markets, target groups, and the public sphere are central to any discussion of formal communication programs between organizations or other strategic communicators and the individuals or groups with which they strive to communicate. The concept explains why individuals and collectivities of individuals are motivated to communicate for themselves (to seek or otherwise acquire information), with similar individuals to form organized groups, and with formal organizations to make demands on those organizations or to shape the behavior of the organizations. Theories of publics originated in the 1920s as the result of debates over the nature of citizen participation in a democracy, the role of the mass media in forming public opinion, the role of public relations practitioners in the process, and the effects of communicated messages on publics, audiences, and other components of society. J. Grunig developed a situational theory of publics in the 1960s that has served as the most prominent theory of publics for 50 years, and J.-N. Kim and J. Grunig recently have expanded that theory into a situational theory of problem solving. These theories have been used to identify and segment types of publics, to explain the communication behaviors of those publics, to conceptualize the effects of formal communication programs, to understand the cognitive processes of members of publics, and to explain the development of activist groups. Other scholars have suggested additions to these theories or alternatives to more thoroughly explain how communication takes place between members of publics and to identify latent publics that are largely ignored in the situational theories.


Relational Dialectics Theory  

Kristina M. Scharp

Relational dialectics theory (RDT) is a postmodern critical theory of meaning. Based on the writing of Russian philosopher, RDT attunes researchers to the ways that discourses (i.e., ideologies) compete to make meaning of particular semantic objects (e.g., identities, phenomena, processes, etc.). Of note, not all discourses hold the same amount of power. Some discourses are dominant (i.e., centripetal) whereas others are marginalized (i.e., centrifugal). RDT researchers, then, are primarily interested in exploring how these discourses, with unequal power, compete. This focus on the competition of discourses for power and the ability of RDT to call out the ideological forces that disenfranchise some groups while enfranchising others holds promise for practical applications such as debunking misconceptions and better understanding where privilege comes from and how it is perpetuated. When discourses compete, they might do so within or across a set of utterances. Utterances are turns in talk and serve as the primary unit of analysis in RDT research. Utterances, however, are not standalone entities. Rather, they are connected by different links to form an utterance chain. Some links of the utterance chain pertain to time (what has been said before and what response an utterance can anticipate) whereas the other links of the utterance chain pertain to the relationship level (some pertain to the culture at large whereas other only to an idiosyncratic relationship). Overall, discursive competition takes place across a continuum of interplay. At one end of the continuum is monologue. Monologue represents the absence of meaning. Next are discursive enactments (i.e., closure) that reinforce the dominant discourse and shut down alternatives (see entry for complete list). Diachronic separation occurs when the dominance of a discourse changes across time. Diachronic separation can take two forms: (a) spiraling inversion or (b) segmentation. Synchronic interplay is next and occurs when two discourses compete within a given utterance. When RDT researchers examine a text for synchronic interplay, they often look to see how a marginalized discourse (a) negates, (b) counters, or (c) entertains the dominant discourse. Finally, on the other end of the continuum of interplay, is dialogic transformation. Dialogic transformation occurs through either (a) discursive hybridity or (b) an aesthetic moment whereby discourses suspend their interplay to create new meanings. Conducted using RDT’s corresponding method, contrapuntal analysis, researchers using this theory work to disrupt hegemonic, taken-for-granted assumptions about how things are and call attention to voices overlooked in the past. To date, this theory has been taken up primarily by family, interpersonal, and health communication scholars, although many scholars have used this theory throughout the discipline.