Mental Health and Health Communication: A Theme (and an Experiment) for 2018-2020

Mental Health and Health Communication: A Theme (and an Experiment) for 2018-2020

By Mike Mackert

When I was appointed director of the Center for Health Communication (CHC) a little over a year ago, one of my first orders of business was to connect with other center directors across campus. I wanted to know more about how they ran their organizations, ask for their advice on where I might want to take the CHC, and generally benefit from the wisdom of successful colleagues.

One of the most consistent features of centers across campus was their use of topical themes. They might have different names (initiatives, themes, programs, etc.) and run for different periods of time (normally one year, sometimes two years), but almost all centers used them as a way to generate interest and activity across campus. Basically, a successful theme could be an invitation to the broader campus to engage.

I left those meetings thinking about potential themes for the CHC, but it wasn’t until the spring steering committee meeting that I was fully sold on the concept. Our steering committee includes representatives from the Moody College of Communication, Dell Medical School, and the Office of the Vice President for Research. It was Chris Webb (Dell Medical School Associate Dean for Research) in particular who highlighted the potential value for the CHC to implement a theme – it would be a more specific call to action for faculty, staff, and students within Dell Med to engage with the CHC. “Health communication” can feel big and broad, because it is. A theme could narrow focus in a productive manner.

Since it was founded, every year of the CHC has felt like a bit of an experiment. We have grown quickly, and the willingness to experiment and evolve in our work and how we go about it has been key to our success. Attempting a theme would be another chance to experiment and see how something like this might advance our mission.

Given all that, it felt like now was the right moment to announce our 2018-20 theme on Mental Health and Health Communication. I’m not sure about everything it will include (we have some first ideas included in our formal announcement), but I am confident that now is the right moment to launch our first theme and to use mental health as a way to invite people from across campus to engage on issues related to mental health and health communication.

After a number of informal conversations over the course of the spring semester, I’m excited to publicly announce the theme and the possibilities it will make possible in 2018-2020. I think this is an area of work where the CHC can advance health communication research, education, and practice to improve the health of people on campus, in Central Texas, and beyond. That’s the kind of work our faculty, staff, affiliates, and students are most passionate about.

If you have ideas or want to get involved, this summer will be all about planning for this theme – let me know at