Respecting the 'stages' of depression: Considering depression severity and readiness to seek help.
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OBJECTIVE: Despite knowing the value of message customization, empirical results have failed to provide clear indicators of what make a depression help-seeking message effective. The present research examines stages of depression in response to a prominent communication strategy, gain versus loss framing, to inform possibilities for effective message customization. METHODS: Two experimental studies were conducted with a student (N=126) and U.S. adult (N=738) sample that tested the effects of gain versus loss framing at different stages of depression. RESULTS: A persuasive gain-frame advantage was found for those with mild and severe depression, whereas a boomerang effect was found for both gain and loss framing among those with moderately severe depression. With regards to intention to seek help, neither gain nor loss framing was found to influence intentions. Stages of depression was a strong predictor, with strongest intentions to seek help observed among those with either minor or severe symptoms of depression. CONCLUSION: Effective health messaging must be matched with unique characteristics and needs of individuals at each 'stage' of depression in order to produce favorable outcomes. PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: 'Stages' of depression should be known and carefully assessed before the creation and launch of communication interventions.
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