Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Loneliness is a mental health epidemic that affects all generations, genders, and cultures. Loneliness is an emotional and social state that requires social interaction to alleviate the symptoms, but meaningful social interaction can be hard to find. Lonely people are stigmatized, which can inhibit self-disclosure, and other stigmatized conditions (e.g., AIDS, depression) can add more barriers in self-disclosure. Communication technologies (e.g., social media, online forums) are positioned to connect remote, isolated people, by providing space for like-minded people to connect. One such group that is vulnerable to loneliness is family caregivers. Due to the inordinate amount of time and energy spent taking care of ailing family members, caregivers can suffer from significant loneliness and social isolation, so websites with online forums are an important alternative for caregivers with limitations. Website forums were chosen because the threads and posts can offer more text space than social media and website forums can better target a specific population than social media. Even though online communication is an option for people to connect, it is unclear what type of social support websites actually provide for caregivers.This study sought to identify how caregivers communicate loneliness on targeted websites, as well as examine the responses received. A content analysis was conducted on threads collected between August 2018 and January 2019 from AgingCare.com, a website dedicated to the needs of caregivers. An examination of threads tagged with the keyword “loneliness” helped determine how caregivers talked about feelings of loneliness and how other caregivers provided support.The results from the content analysis indicated that while loneliness was being identified by caregivers, the loneliness appeared to be seen as a symptom of greater problems rather than the problem itself. While the online community provided space and attention for caregivers who needed to discuss their feelings, it was less clear if loneliness was being solved in online forums. Although this research helped identify how caregivers communicate about loneliness online, future research can shed light on the efficacy of online communication in alleviating loneliness.