Improving Health Messages Targeting College Students Suffering from Depression: An Interdisciplinary Approach

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Improving Health Messages Targeting College Students Suffering from Depression: An Interdisciplinary Approach

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Tragically, as depression symptoms and risk for suicide increase on college campuses, actual help-seeking decreases – a problem that could be targeted with effective health communication interventions promoting help-seeking for depression. Unfortunately, theoretical and practical guidance on how to best create such messages is largely lacking, mainly due to the separation of psychology and persuasion communication science. In order to provide comprehensive understanding of whether and how depression influences health information processing, the present research sought to address this gap in knowledge. In order to test the effects of framing techniques and depression on persuasive outcomes of depression help-seeking messages, two between-subjects experimental studies were conducted: Study 1 was an online study testing the effects of three depression help-seeking messages that varied in levels of responsibility framing (low responsibility, no responsibility, and information only). Study 2 was a lab experiment utilizing eye-tracking, self-report, and linguistic software to test the effects of gain-and loss framing and depression on attention to, interpretation of, and memory for depression help-seeking messages. Results demonstrated that depression did not influence interpretation of depression help-seeking messages that differed in levels of responsibility framing. Depression did, however, influence effects of gain-and loss framed messages according to congruence of message valence and levels of depression – those who were depressed reported higher intentions to seek help after viewing the loss-framed message versus the gain-framed message. Linguistic analyses of memory responses indicate a crucially important explanatory mechanism - those high in depression perceive help-seeking behavior as more risky, lending support to the assumption that help-seeking behavior is a detection behavior for those who suffer from depression (Rothman et al., 2006). The present research contributes to the advancement of effective depression help-seeking messages. Depressed participants respond better to negative framing of self-relevant depression help-seeking messages. Such framing induces higher levels of perceived risk, which ultimately prompts intentions to seek help.



University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2016. Major: Mass Communication. Advisor: Marco Yzer. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 165 pages.

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Lueck, Jennifer. (2016). Improving Health Messages Targeting College Students Suffering from Depression: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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