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2015 HSR&D/QUERI National Conference Abstract

1032 — Communication Strategies to Increase Receptivity to Help-Seeking and Promote Mental Health Service Use

Karras E, Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention; McCarten JM, Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention; Stephens B, Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention;

While VA has implemented efforts to enhance Veterans' access to mental health services, seeking treatment is partly dependent on individual preferences informed by related knowledge and attitudes. The development of programs that explicitly target these factors that can increase the likelihood that Veterans will seek help and utilize services is needed. Public education messaging is a promising intervention for which there is growing evidence of its ability to improve such behavioral determinants, and achieve moderate success in shifting health behaviors. Therefore, this study aims to evaluate the use of messaging to influence knowledge and attitudes and promote help seeking.

Data were obtained from a national cross-sectional survey conducted in FY 2015 with a representative sample of Veterans as part of a larger ongoing assessment of VA suicide prevention-related communication and outreach activities. Responses from 288 Veterans were included and consist of self-reported measures of: (1) VA suicide prevention messaging exposure (past 30 days); (2) knowledge of resources and attitudes towards help seeking; and (3) service use.

Preliminary analyses reveal that participants exposed to public messaging were significantly more likely than those with no exposure to: (a) report awareness of VA services (e.g., Veterans Crisis Line (VCL); OR = 4.28, 95% CI 1.84, 9.94), (b) discuss suicidal feelings, thoughts or behaviors (OR = 1.86, 95% CI 1.00, 3.45), and (c) have used or known someone else to have used services for mental health concerns including the VCL (OR = 4.21, 95% CI 2.03, 8.73), general practitioner (OR = 2.45, 95% CI 1.17, 5.11), and online resources (OR = 2.30, 95% CI 1.12, 4.69). More positive attitudes towards help seeking/treatment and fewer perceived barriers to care were also observed among those with reported exposure.

Findings suggest that the use of public messaging may support or enhance mental health and suicide prevention initiatives targeting Veteran populations, and warrant further investigation. These efforts have the potential to both influence individual characteristics, and support the development of larger environments that validate and motivate the use of mental health services.

Programs designed to improve perceptions and increase help seeking among Veterans are critical to facilitate early intervention and decrease incidences of suicidal behaviors.