UT Center for Health Communication to Produce Whitepaper Regarding Mental Health-Related Communication

UT Center for Health Communication to Synthesize Major Issues and Best Practices Regarding Mental Health-Related Communication

Approximately 1 in 5 American adults experience mental illness per year, yet only about half of them receive treatment. Myriad factors contribute to the widespread lack of diagnosis and proper treatment, including a pervasive stigma and widespread miscommunication around mental health. How can we, as a society, change the way we talk about mental health in America, in order to reduce stigma and improve health outcomes?

Thanks to a grant from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, the Center for Health Communication (CHC) at The University of Texas at Austin has begun production on a whitepaper meant to advance the American conversation about mental health. The whitepaper will highlight common challenges and issues around health-related communication, synthesize extant academic and clinical research, and highlight exemplars and proven best practices. Intended as a resource for researchers, healthcare providers, mass communication professionals, and community leaders (both formal and informal), the whitepaper will culminate in evidence-based recommendations for mental health communication training of journalists and healthcare providers, as well as recommendations for future research in this area.

"From previous research and experience, we believe changing the way people talk about mental health can encourage more people to seek help, bolster treatment success rates, and improve overall health outcomes," said Dr. Michael Mackert, CHC Director. "To that end, we're taking a deep look into how individuals in roles that involve particular responsibilities and opportunities to advance how we communicate about mental health — specifically front-line healthcare providers and journalists who report on mental health issues — are currently trained to talk about these topics. Our goal is to provide pragmatic, approachable solutions to change the way everyone thinks and talks about mental health."

Research and recommendations from the whitepaper will support the creation of evidence-based curriculum for health profession and communication students, to train these future professionals in effective methods for communicating with mental health consumers, families, and the general public. The curriculum is expected to be ready for pilot testing in Spring 2020.

Spearheading this work will be Heather Voorhees, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the CHC whose position is supported by the Hogg Foundation grant.

This whitepaper is part of the CHC's 2-year theme on mental health and health communication.

For more information about the CHC, the whitepaper, or the Mental Health and Health Communication theme, e-mail Director Michael Mackert.