Exploring the communications of social support in threads about anxiety and depression on Baby Kingdom: A discourse-pragmatic approach

Jesse W. C. Yip, Winnie Chor

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperpeer-review


How social support is performed and maintained has been of interest to sociolinguists and discourse analysts. More recently, increasing attention has been drawn to investigating social support in the online context, particularly the communicative features of online support groups for mental diseases (e.g. Horgan et at., 2013; Paulus and Varga, 2015, Prescott et al., 2017, among others). A social support group is defined as a group of people who share the same problems congregates with the goal of helping each other to tackle their mutual problems (Finn, 1999). While such online groups for mental illnesses are commonly found in western countries like Australia (e.g. Beyond Blue), the US (e.g. Daily Strength) and the UK (e.g. No More Panic), they are not common in Chinese communities, including Hong Kong. People with similar issues would tend to seek help from a variety of online forums, which often include a section on mental health, or at list health in general. Our present study explores the discourse-pragmatic features of threads involved on the online forum “Baby Kingdom” in Hong Kong – a local online forum which is famous for discussion about parenting, such as pregnancy, early-childhood education and parent-child relationship. In this forum, participants raise questions, share personal experience and exchange useful information about parenting. The communication patterns of the participants involved here seems similar to that of online support groups that are for people with physical or mental health problems. Our study aims to investigate how participants proffer social support to one another in conversations among participants with anxiety and/or depression in Baby Kingdom, addressing two research questions:

a) What is the sequential structure of the interactions among participants?
b) What categories of social support are exchanged among participants?

Move analysis (Swales, 1990) is applied to identify the textual boundaries between moves and content analysis is employed to reveal the categories of social support. Thirty threads about anxiety and/or depression in Baby Kingdom were collected and examined with reference to Yip (2020), which revealed communication patterns and types of social support in six online support groups for anxiety and depression based in Western countries. The results indicate that the sequential structure of the interactions in Baby Kingdom is analogous to that of the Western online support groups: thread initiation (direct/indirect request for support) – delivery of social support (request/offer or offer/accept the support) – negotiation (probing questions or discussing ideas) The conversations in the Western online support groups are primarily limited to requesting and offering support. In contrast, more back-and-forth exchanges are found in Baby Kingdom as more negotiation moves are identified. Moreover, the participants in Baby Kingdom provide more diverse types of social support, including advice, understanding/empathy, compliment and companion, while participants in the WOSG tend to share own experience, thoughts and feelings to show understanding/ empathy to support seekers. This study argues the discrepancies between Baby Kingdom and Western online support groups lie in their contextual settings. Baby Kingdom is not positioned as an online support group, but a general forum where provides more freedom for participants with or without anxiety and/or depression to interact without thematic constraints. The findings provide implications for remedying “robotic” communication pattern that may deprive the therapeutic potential of online support groups (see Yip, 2018 and Yip, 2020).


Forum2020 Annual Research Forum of The Linguistic Society of Hong Kong = 2020年香港語言學學會學術年會, LSHK-ARF-2020
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