Master's Project Title:

Impact of Public Service Announcements on Attitudes about Help-Seeking and Coping

MCH Student:

Nate Wright

Date of Defense:

May 20, 2015


Background: Because of their association with suicide risk, the ability to seek help and to cope with  depressive symptoms have been the focus of suicide intervention efforts. We evaluated several public  service announcement (PSAs) to (1) determine if help – seeking attitudes and knowledge of maladaptive  coping behaviors varied by type of PSAs; and (2), if there was variation by type of PSA, determine  whether help – seeking attitudes and knowledge of maladaptive coping behaviors were moderated by s ex,  religious affiliation, and/or experience with depressive symptoms and/or suicide attempts. It was  hypothesized that help – seeking attitudes would differ by PSA type, and be moderated by sex, religious  affiliation, and experience with depressive symptom s and/or suicide attempts.

Methods: We recruited from nine University – based behavioral science courses. All participants  completed the demographic questionnaire, and then were randomly assigned to one of four PSA  conditions: original billboard, alternati ve billboard, video, or no information. After a one – time brief  exposure to a PSA, participants completed a questionnaire about their attitudes toward help – seeking and  maladaptive coping behaviors in response to depressive symptoms. We used ANOVA to identify  differences in these outcomes between PSA groups. We also conducted multivariable analyses to  examine whether PSA exposure and outcomes differed by participants’ sex, religious affiliation, or  previous experience with depressive symptoms and/or suicid e attempts.

Results: A total of 862 (78.8% female) young adult participants between the ages of 18 and 34 ( M = 21.9;  SD = 2.8) years participated in this study. The video and alternative billboard were significantly  associated with help – seeking attitudes , and the video was also significantly associated with endorsement  of maladaptive coping behaviors. Sex and religious affiliation were significantly associated with help – seeking attitudes and endorsement of maladaptive coping behaviors, but they did not significantly interact  with PSA to moderate the association with the study outcomes.

Conclusion: We found that participants exposed to the video PSA were more likely to endorse more  help – seeking attitudes and fewer maladaptive coping behaviors than those e xposed to the original  billboard group, suggesting that the video PSA is better at conveying the symptoms of depression and  provided more information about services for treatment. We saw no evidence that the effects of PSA  exposure were modified by person al characteristics, but sex and religious affiliation were associated with  the outcomes. These results highlight the significant impact these personal characteristics may have on  suicide prevention efforts.