At least 1 in 10 Veterans meet criteria for PTSD related to their military experience. Treatment for PTSD is widely available, and national dissemination initiatives have increased Veterans' access to best-practice interventions. However, treatment-seeking remains strikingly low; most Veterans with PTSD do not seek mental health services due to perceived stigma and other barriers. The National Center for PTSD (NCPTSD) developed and launched AboutFace, a public awareness campaign to help Veterans recognize PTSD and motivate them to seek evidence-based care. Since its development, AboutFace has earned three major awards and has had tens of thousands of visits. Despite the tremendous potential for AboutFace to reduce stigma, improve attitudes toward mental health treatment seeking, and to increase PTSD treatment initiation and engagement, it has yet to be formally evaluated or effectively implemented within VHA practice settings. In addition to providing needed data on the efficacy of AboutFace and identifying strategies for effective implementation within VHA, this study will provide a greater understanding of the role and value of digital storytelling interventions to improve access to care for a wide range of stigmatized conditions.
The primary objectives of the study are to examine the impact of AboutFace on a) increasing PTSD treatment initiation and engagement; and b) decreasing stigma and negative attitudes toward mental health services. It is anticipated that Veterans in the AboutFace condition will be more likely to access and complete treatment than those receiving enhanced Usual Care (eUC) for PTSD. Finally, qualitative interviews with key stakeholders across the nation will be conducted to inform best practices for future implementation of AboutFace.
A total of 376 Veterans referred for a PTSD assessment and recommended for treatment in the Charleston PTSD clinic will be enrolled in the study. Veterans will be randomized to receive AboutFace versus enhanced Usual Care (eUC). All Veterans will receive standard PTSD educational materials, and half will also be randomly assigned to receive AboutFace. Comparisons will be made across indices of treatment engagement [i.e., initiated treatment (yes/no), total number of sessions completed;]; changes in stigma and attitudes toward seeking mental health treatment; and changes in PTSD symptoms and quality of life. Veterans will be assessed on these indices at baseline, 1-month, 3-months, and 6-months. Thematic interviews will be conducted with 20-30 VA PTSD Clinical Team Directors from a diverse range of PTSD clinics (i.e., ranging in size, location, and practice) to inform future implementation and dissemination initiatives.
5/16/18: Project start date was 5/1/18. There are no study findings at this time
Behavioral health problems among Veterans have raised awareness of the critical need for more reliable, effective, and accessible means to recognize those in need, direct them to help, and ensure that they receive the best treatment available. Research has suggested that people are most responsive to advice and education when it comes from someone to whom they can relate. AboutFace is a peer education resource for Veterans that was developed, launched, and recently updated by the National Center for PTSD (NCPTSD) based on HSR&D funded pilot data. AboutFace features personal stories of Veterans and is designed to improve mental health treatment engagement among Veterans with PTSD and related comorbidities. The study team, which includes the NCPTSD, recently completed a usability assessment and pilot feasibility trial of AboutFace under HSR&D grant #PPO 14-360-1. Data from this study (1) guided improvements to AboutFace for increasing PTSD treatment initiation and engagement; and (2) demonstrated the feasibility of the methodology for the proposed study. If AboutFace is found to increase Veterans' initiation and engagement in PTSD treatment, study data will have broad implications for overcoming barriers to care for Veterans with PTSD and other stigmatized conditions.
- Hamblen JL, Grubaugh AL, Davidson TM, Borkman AL, Bunnell BE, Ruggiero KJ. An Online Peer Educational Campaign to Reduce Stigma and Improve Help Seeking in Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Telemedicine journal and e-health : the official journal of the American Telemedicine Association. 2019 Jan 1; 25(1):41-47.
- Bunnell BE, Davidson TM, Hamblen JL, Cook DL, Grubaugh AL, Lozano BE, Tuerk PW, Ruggiero KJ. Protocol for the evaluation of a digital storytelling approach to address stigma and improve readiness to seek services among veterans. Pilot and feasibility studies. 2017 Feb 17; 3(7):7.