Terminal Loneliness: A Three-Phased Phenomenological Study Exploring Previously Suicidal Youth’s Experiences of Belonging to Caring Others During Suicidal Episodes
How can we inspire hope in youth (18–24-year-olds) who want to end their life? Suicide remains the second highest cause of death for youth (Statistics Canada, 2020). The pandemic has only increased the prevalence of suicidal thoughts and behaviours among youth (Yard et al., 2021). Belongingness may hold life-saving answers to stemming this tide. Leading frameworks for understanding suicide as a journey from ideation to attempt put belongingness at the nexus of prevention. Joiner (2005), the pioneer of these frameworks, explains that if belongingness persists “the will to live remains intact” (p. 117). Researchers, however, have yet to capture the ebb and flow of belongingness and the role close others might play throughout the suicidal episode. One enigmatic anomaly at the root of researchers’ pursuit to place belongingness is a pervading deep sense of loneliness despite the explicit caring presence of others. By listening to the stories of 20 youth with past suicidal episodes, this work offers a visceral window into the impenetrable fog of suicidal desire. This study was designed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (Smith et al., 2009). Data were collected online from interviews and joint storytelling sessions, a focus group, and four supplemental data sources. Thematic patterns were identified by arranging clusters of colour-coded significant statements on a reflective wall. Fine-grain individual accounts were developed before considering patterns across cases. Youth stories shine a light into three life-saving insights surrounding belongingness: what psychosocial needs knit together to form the core DNA of the construct, how intrapersonal and interpersonal fractures in belongingness along the suicidal path increase suicidal desire, and when and how caring others can interrupt a youth’s path to suicide.