New York University Persuasive Communication Strategy Paper
Based on the feedback provided on the first and second paper, each student will put together a feasible persuasive communication strategy paper (2-3 double-spaced pages) to influence members of the intended target audience to take action to address the behavioral problem. The communication strategy is expected to be well conceived and adequately supported by relevant research evidence (a minimum of 5 *additional* peer-reviewed sources) regarding the past or likely future success of this message strategy with this specific group of audience.
Paper 3: Communication Strategy
Sunday, May 08 @ 11:59 PM
Two (2) – three (3) double-spaced pages of text (not including the title page and
The paper must be typewritten in Word, double-spaced, with margins of 1 inch on
all sides. Use a Times New Roman 12-point font. Your name and Student ID
number should appear at the top left corner of each page (you can use the page
header for this). All pages should be appropriately numbered. Use headings and
sub-headings as appropriate. Cite your sources in-text and list them in the
References page following APA Style (6th or 7th edition) guidelines. All papers
must comply with the University’s academic integrity standards.
Submission: Upload paper (MS Word or PDF document only) to Canvas by the deadline noted
above. Students will NOT be able to upload documents once the deadline has
passed (so please plan ahead). In the event that you experience a technical
problem with uploading your paper, please contact the Canvas Help Desk AND
email a copy of the file to the instructor BEFORE the deadline. Papers submitted
late will have five (5) points deducted for each late day. Failure to submit the
paper within 72-hours of the original deadline will result in a grade of zero points
for this assignment.
This paper should include a References page of a minimum of (5) peer-reviewed
journal articles (different from the articles previously referenced in your problem
analysis and audience analysis papers) that are directly relevant to aspects of your
communication strategy (e.g., your choice of source, message appeal type, and/or
channel). These sources should also be cited “in-text” in the body of the paper
following APA Style (6th or 7th edition) guidelines.
Papers will be graded based on the Persuasive Communication Plan Rubric,
which can be found on the course website. This paper counts toward 15% of the
final grade in this course.
In the previous papers you produced, you went through the process of defining the “problem”
you are trying to solve (problem analysis) and getting to know your audience (audience
analysis). This resulted in clear and specific strategic communication objectives that you aim to
accomplish in your project. These objectives identify the specific cognitive elements (beliefs,
attitudes, emotions, etc.) that you would want to influence in order to engage your target
audience and persuade them to change their attitudes or behavior. For this final assignment you
will put on the hat of the communication expert and devise a communication strategy that aims
to achieve the strategic communication objectives of your plan.
Formulating Your Communication Strategy
The communication strategy plan is the active ingredient of your program. It outlines the
specific communication activities that are expected to accomplish your program’s goals and
objectives. These activities may be of different types – a public communication campaign, a
public event or a conference, an educational session, a social media site, etc. – but they share in
common the objective of reaching and engaging your target audience with a specific message.
Each communication activity is essentially composed of three elements: the message (what you
want to say and how you want to say it), the source (who will say it) and the channel (how you
will reach your target audience). In all cases, your choice of communication activities and the
basic elements of your communication model (message, source, and channel) should be informed
by two key considerations:
1. Knowledge of your target audience – effective strategic communication is audience centered.
That means that you should always consider the different elements of your plan from the
perspective of your audience – their biases and predispositions, their needs and aspirations,
their values and norms, their communication preferences, etc. – and not from your own
2. Your persuasion rationale – your communication plan ought to be consistent with the logic of
the persuasion theory or theories you previously chose to guide your plan. For example, if
your goal is to induce cognitive dissonance in your target audience, you need to explain how
your choice of a source, message, and channel can help you induce cognitive dissonance.
Researching Your Communication Strategy
While innovation and creativity can make important contributions to the success of your
communication strategy, research has consistently shown that evidence-based communication
programs are most effective in achieving their desired outcomes. For this reason, you are
strongly encouraged to develop your communication plan based on relevant research. At a very
basic level, you can find and use relevant evidence in the persuasion literature to support or
justify specific decisions you make regarding the various components of your proposed strategic
communication plan. For example, citing studies that found that members of your target
audience respond favorably to humor can justify your plan to use humor appeals in your
Recommended Organization of Your Paper
I. Background and Strategic Communication Objectives
• Briefly (in a single short paragraph) restate the overall goals and objectives of your
program and list the communication objectives of your communication strategy (NOTE:
make sure that the objectives you list reflect revisions you made according to the
feedback you received on your problem analysis and audience analysis paper).
II. Messaging Strategy
• Core Message: What is the most persuasive or most important thing you can say to
achieve your communication objectives? This should be a simple, unambiguous sentence.
Also remember that a message has 3 parts: (a) the issue, (b) why should the audience care
about the issue and (c) what should the audience think, feel or do regarding this issue.
Message Appeal: Will you communicate your core message using a rational or an
emotional appeal? If emotional appeal, what emotion will you try to evoke or instigate?
Message Format: Will you use a short message or a narrative-type message?
Message Frame: How will you frame or “package” the information contained in the
III. Source (Communicator)
• Who (person, group or organization) is likely to draw attention to your message and/or
motivate members of your target audience to accept your message?
• What characteristics of this source will likely influence your target audience to perceive
this person, group, or organization as credible and/or likeable?
IV. Dissemination (Communication) Channel and Vehicle
• Dissemination Channel: What specific channel will you use to reach your target
audience with your message? (Note: channel is the way in which the message is sent, i.e.,
face-to-face, television, email, etc.).
• Dissemination Vehicle: What specific vehicle will you use? (Note: vehicle is the specific
communication tool used to deliver the message through the channel, for example, a
public service announcement, a documentary, a presentation, etc.)
• Reflect on the relative strengths and weaknesses of your communication strategy. Is it
feasible (i.e., easy to implement)? Is it cost effective (i.e., has the potential to change the
behavior of many in your target audience with minimal investment of resources)? Is your
target audience likely to respond favorably to your communication strategy? Do you
foresee potential barriers to the implementation of your strategy?
VI. References (APA style 6th or 7th edition)
• List a minimum of five (5) peer-reviewed journal articles that directly informed different
aspects of your proposed communication strategy (make sure to cite these sources in the
text). These should be different than the sources you use in the preparation of your
problem analysis and audience analysis papers.
ISSN: 1041-0236 (Print) 1532-7027 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/hhth20
Help a Buddy Take a Knee: Creating Persuasive
Messages for Military Service Members to
Encourage Others to Seek Mental Health Help
Rose Clark-Hitt , Sandi W. Smith & Jordan S. Broderick
To cite this article: Rose Clark-Hitt , Sandi W. Smith & Jordan S. Broderick (2012) Help
a Buddy Take a Knee: Creating Persuasive Messages for Military Service Members to
Encourage Others to Seek Mental Health Help, Health Communication, 27:5, 429-438, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/10410236.2011.606525
Published online: 04 Oct 2011.
Submit your article to this journal
Article views: 661
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Citing articles: 8 View citing articles
Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at
Health Communication, 27: 429–438, 2012
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1041-0236 print / 1532-7027 online
Help a Buddy Take a Knee: Creating Persuasive
Messages for Military Service Members to Encourage
Others to Seek Mental Health Help
Rose Clark-Hitt, Sandi W. Smith, and Jordan S. Broderick
Department of Communication
Michigan State University
Helping service members returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who need mental health help is an important problem for the United States military. Tanielian and Jaycox
(2008) estimated that approximately 14%, or 300,000, of the service members returning from
the wars have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), yet just over half of those needing psychological help seek it despite the availability of effective treatments. This article reports the
focus group responses of military personnel about message factors associated with persuading individuals to encourage others to seek mental health help. The results have theoretical
and practical implications for future message design for promoting increased usage of mental
health services among members of this population. Responses are presented in terms of the
communication variables of source, message, channel, and receiver factors.
Tanielian and Jaycox (2008) estimated that approximately
14%, or 300,000, of service members returning from
Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom
have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression,
yet just over half of those needing help seek psychological
help despite availability of effective treatments. One route
for increasing help-seeking may be through persuasive messages targeting individuals to encourage others to seek help.
Research has reported that perceptions of social support, or
encouragement to seek help, predict help-seeking behaviors
in various contexts, including employee assistance programs
(EAPs), and among the general population. The goal is to
investigate factors associated with persuading individuals to
encourage others to seek mental health help in the military
Preproduction formative research provides insights into
the target audience that help increase the persuasiveness of
a message campaign. Factors to examine when conducting formative research are source, message, channel, and
receiver variables (McGuire, 1990). Understanding each of
these factors will provide useful information for designing
Correspondence should be addressed to Rose Clark-Hitt, Department
of Communication, 572 Communication Arts & Sciences, Michigan State
University, East Lansing, MI 48824. E-mail: email@example.com
persuasive messages in many contexts including this one.
The purpose of this article is to report the focus group
responses of military personnel about source, message,
channel, and receiver variables that military officers associate with encouraging others to seek help. The article
provides overviews of PTSD, help-seeking, and findings
about encouragement and social support increasing help
seeking. Next, a rationale for persuading individuals to
encourage others to seek help is presented, followed by a
discussion of formative research including source, message,
channel, and receiver factors. Focus group responses are presented in terms of the source, message, channel, and receiver
variables, and messages participants suggested.
While PTSD, depression, and traumatic brain injury (TBI)
are all issues for which there are low rates of help seeking (Tanielian & Jaycox, 2008), the following focuses
on PTSD. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that may occur
following “exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in
which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened.
Symptoms of PTSD include re-experiencing the situation
(flashbacks), emotional numbness, feeling hyper-aroused or
430 CLARK-HITT, SMITH, AND BRODERICK
jittery, and avoidance of situations that are reminders of
the traumatic event” (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,
2008b). Effective treatments exist for PTSD (Veterans
Administration, 2008a) if they are sought. It is important to
treat PTSD because of its potential outcomes such as suicide (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2008a). Further,
“Male veterans face roughly twice the risk of dying from
suicide as their civilian counterparts” (Tanielian & Jaycox,
2008, p. 174).
While effective treatment exists for PTSD, personal and
context barriers to seeking assistance have been identified.
Hoge et al. (2004) and Stecker, Fortney, Hamilton, and
Ajzen (2007) reported that being stigmatized was a widely
perceived barrier to seeking mental health care among service members. Other barriers are ability to have time away
from work for treatment (Stecker, Fortney, Hamilton, &
Ajzen, 2007), lack of trust in mental health professionals,
not wanting to be perceived as weak, and concerns others will not see them as competent (Tanielien & Jaycox,
2008).1 Contextual barriers include lack of trained mental
health providers and problems with financial coverage for
services (Burnam, Meredith, Tanielian, & Jaycox, 2009).
Perceived support and encouragement are factors that can
increase seeking mental health help.
While the literature just cited focused on PTSD, for
this study the term “combat stress” was used in focus
groups because PTSD requires a formal diagnosis and it
is not appropriate for service members to diagnose peers.
Rather, they may be able to note symptoms of combat
stress, or combat and operational stress reactions (COSR).2
The connection is that “PTSD is one of many possible
long term outcomes resulting from Combat and Operational
Stress Exposure” (U.S. Army Medical Department Army
Behavioral Health, n.d.).3
1 The military has made policy changes to address barriers people may
perceive to seeking help. In 2008, to reduce the trend of military members
avoiding diagnosis and treatment for PTSD, Secretary of Defense Robert
Gates lifted the policy requiring personnel to report mental health treatment
over the past 7 years on a security clearance form. This was intended to
remove barriers for service members seeking help (Associated Press, 2008).
2 COSRs are defined as “the broad group of physical, mental, and emotional signs that result from Combat and Operational Stress exposure.
COSR is considered a subclinical diagnosis with a high recovery rate if
provided appropriate attention and time” (U.S. Army Medical Department
Army Behavioral Health, n.d.).
3 The U.S. Army Medical Department Army Behavioral Health (n.d.)
notes, “COSR is recognizable immediately or shortly after exposure to
traumatic events and captures any recognizable reaction resulting from
exposure to that event or series of events. PTSD has specific chronological
requirements and symptom markers that must be satisfied in order to diagnose. PTSD is only diagnosable by a trained and credentialed healthcare
provider,” and “Military personnel and providers must focus their efforts
on the management of COSR and mitigating factors to control COSR in an
effort to shape the long term reaction of their organization and individual
Encouraging mental health help-seeking among military service members is the behavior of interest here.4 The rationale
for persuading service members to encourage other service
members to seek help is twofold. First, studies have shown
that perceived social support and encouragement are associated with psychological help-seeking. Second, research
has demonstrated effectiveness of indirect persuasion where
individuals are targeted by persuasive messages to talk to
others to encourage a behavior. These two areas are discussed next.
Studies with military and nonmilitary respondents have
researched perceived support and mental health helpseeking. A study with active-duty, National Guard, and
Reserve Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
reported that perceived support from one’s unit was a negative predictor of perceptions of stigma about seeking mental
health care (Pietrzak et al., 2009). In nonmilitary contexts,
perceived social support was one predictor of help seeking behaviors for PTSD from child sexual trauma (Ullman
& Breckin, 2002), and perceived social support predicted
help seeking among victims of violent crimes (Norris et al.,
1990). Being prompted to seek mental health help by a
friend or relative predicted perceptions of more supportive norms and positive beliefs about seeking help (Vogel
et al., 2007). In sum, literature in military and nonmilitary contexts provides evidence for perceived support and
Hesitance to seek mental health help in an organizational
context is not unique to the military. Literature has documented low rates of help-seeking among the general population from employee assistance programs (EAPs) (Reynolds
& Lehman, 2003), including mental health services for
distressed employees (Gerstein & Bayer, 1988; Hartwell
et al., 1996). While EAP literature does not focus on the
military, it provides insights about underlying mechanisms
through which support from coworkers may also operate in
the military. EAP literature has addressed how perceived
social support and encouragement from supervisors influence willingness to seek help or to encourage others to seek
help. Reynolds and Lehman (2003) reported feeling stronger
group cohesion, awareness of services, trust in management,
and knowledge of how to get help predicted willingness to
seek help or recommend an EAP to others. Delaney, Grube,
and Amer (1998) reported that perceiving greater support
from coworkers and that their participant’s supervisor would
encourage EAP use increased the likelihood that employees
would use an EAP for alcohol problems.
4 “Encouragement” is used rather than “referral” because within the military “referral” connotes being officially required to seek professional help
rather than choosing to seek help; rather, the goal here is to encourage
service members to seek help under their own volition.
ENCOURAGING OTHERS TO SEEK MENTAL HEALTH HELP 431
Support and encouragement are documented to increase
help-seeking, and one route for increasing encouragement of
help-seeking is through indirect persuasion, or persuading a
second party to encourage a target individual to engage in
a health behavior, which has been found effective in other
contexts. Morrison (2005) reported that fear appeal messages were effective in persuading men to speak to important
women in their lives to take part in self defense classes.
Indirect persuasion attempts (i.e., persuading service members to encourage others) may increase help-seeking among
service members who need help. The next section discusses
the foundation for formative research about persuading service members to encourage others to seek help.
Source, Message, Channel, and Receiver Factors
McGuire’s (1999) framework of source, message, channel,
and receiver variables is based on Lasswell’s model of communication “ . . . who says what, via which medium, to
whom, aimed at what target effect” (p. 152). McGuire’s
(1990) framework provides guidance in the preproduction
stage of formative research about a target audience for
developing campaign messages (Atkin & Freimuth, 1990).
Literature on health communication campaigns and programs has employed the source, message, channel, and
receiver framework, including disseminating health information to African Americans (Stroman, 2005), a review
of persuasion literature for preventing HIV/AIDS (DevoisComby, & Salovey, 2002), preventing HIV/AIDS among
Hispanic individuals (Yep, 1992), a smoking cessation intervention (Velicer et al., 1993), and persuading low-income
women to have mammograms (Marshall, Smith, & McKeon,
Several studies report on source, message, channel,
and receiver factors for persuasion. Across studies, more
highly credible sources produce greater persuasive effects
than sources with lesser credibility (Pornpitakpan, 2004).
Perceptions of credibility are influenced by trustworthiness
and expertise of the source (Hovland, Janis, & Kelley, 1953).
Trustworthiness varies in terms of whether receivers perceive the source to be honest or dishonest, fair or unfair, and
open- versus closed-minded (O’Keefe, 2002). Perceptions
of expertise depend on whether a source appears to be
trained, informed, and experienced in the area (O’Keefe,
2002). Source features for this study may involve rank
and military experience. Messages vary in terms of features including the style of delivery, type of appeal, what
content is included or excluded, the technical degree of
information, organization of the message (McGuire, 1990),
and frequency of message presentation (Bettinghaus, 1986).
Message content also varies by whether opposing arguments
are included and or refuted (O’Keefe, 2001). The channel
is the medium through which messages are delivered. The
channel includes “both the medium of transmission (TV
radio, newspaper, magazines, booklets) and the particular
media vehicle (e.g., radio station or magazine title)” (Atkin
& Freimuth, 1990, p. 133). Channels vary in several ways—
for example, whether messages are transmitted verbally or in
written form (McGuire, 1990). Research has demonstrated
differential effectiveness of channels depending on message
complexity, with simpler messages being more persuasive
via television and more complex messages being more persuasive in print form (McGuire, 1990). Effectiveness of
particular channels is difficult to pinpoint because the persuasive are difficult to separate from source, message, and
receiver effects (Kreuter & McClure, 2004). Interpersonal
communication may augment or complement mediated persuasive message campaigns (Bettinghuas, 1986; Hornik,
1990). Channels that may be relevant include military TV
programming and posters in common areas. Finally, receiver
factors are enduring characteristics of the message recipient and induced states of receivers (O’Keefe, 2002) that may
influence perception of a message (Atkin & Freimuth, 1990).
Receiver factors that may be important in how service members interpret messages include rank and work obligations.
These research questions address source, message, channel,
and receiver factors for service members as message targets
about encouraging others to seek help.
RQ1: What are service members’ preferences for sources
of messages relating to encouraging others to seek
mental health help?
RQ2: What are service members’ preferences for persuasive message content relating to encouraging others
to seek mental health help?
RQ3: What are service members’ preferences for channels for persuasive messages relating to encouraging
others to seek mental health help?
RQ4: What are the receiver factors relating to persuasive messages for encouraging others to seek mental
Three focus groups were conducted with 29 participants
at an Army Post in September 2009. They were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. Focus groups were approximately 1 hour and were moderated by the first two authors.
Questions in the moderator guide addressed the advantages
and disadvantages, and barriers relating to encouraging others to seek help, questions about the messages participants
have been exposed to (formally and informally), and participants’ recommendations and suggestions for public service
announcement type messages. The focus groups were transcribed by two research assistants and produced just over
100 pages of text. The first author listened to the tapes of
the focus groups to check the transcriptions for accuracy.
Similar responses were provided across the focus groups;
thus, saturation was achieved, meaning that unique ideas
432 CLARK-HITT, SMITH, AND BRODERICK
were not provided by the final focus group (Krueger &
Focus groups were chosen as the method to gather data
for this project because of the relative strengths of focus
groups for the research questions. Of particular interest
for this study was learning about ideas that had not been
previously identified, and it was important to have flexibility to ask follow-up questions to clarify and probe ideas.
Focus groups provided advantages over individual interviews because the focus-group discussion format allowed
ideas to emerge and for individuals to build on ideas from
others (Krueger & Casey, 2008).
This research was approved by the Human Subjects
Protection office at the researchers’ university and was
approved by the research office at the Army post.
Participation in the focus groups was coordinated by the
Army post’s research office. A representative from the
research office contacted section leaders for individuals
at the Army post to request participation. The moderator
explained that participants were not required to participate
and they could leave any time they wished. Participants completed informed consent forms prior to the focus group. All
participants stayed for the whole session. The 29 participants
were Army majors5 with one Marine. All but one were male.
Twenty-six were married, two were divorced, and one was
single. Twenty-six of 29 participants had deployed to a combat area. Among the 26 who had been deployed, they had
deployed an average of 2.3 times.
The authors read the transcripts and discussed and agreed
upon the codes and their respective categorization as source,
message, channel, and receiver variables, as well as specific
message suggestions. Two coders trained together by coding
the transcript of one of the focus groups. After completing
training, the two coders established reliability on a randomly
selected sample of just over 20% of the sample of the other
two focus group transcriptions not used for training. The
unit of analysis is a turn of talk. Coders examined each turn
of talk individually to determine whether the variables were
5 Majors are officers. Approximately 16% of the Army members are officers while the remaining are enlisted. About 3% of officers are at the rank
of major, with approximately 94% under the rank of major, including all
officer ranks below major and enlisted ranks (statistics from Department
of Defense, 2010). Majors in the Army have typically led groups called
“companies” of up to 190 people while at the rank prior to being promoted
to major (Army, n.d.-a), and a major “Serves as primary Staff Officer for
brigade and task force command regarding personnel, logistical and operational missions” (Army, n.d.b), with a brigade containing approximately
3,000 to 5,000 individuals, commanded by a colonel, two ranks above major
present. The rationale for using individual turns of talk was
that codes were not inflated when an individual repeated the
same idea within one turn of talk for a particular variable.
The coders achieved between 93% and 100% agreement on
the codes.6 Variable frequencies and percent agreement are
presented in Table 1.
Participants discussed two types of credibility: first, for
the source of persuasive messages targeting service members to encourage others to seek help, and second, for
the person directly encouraging an individual to seek help.
Participants reiterated three features for both types of messages sources that are critical: combat credibility, respect,
and trust. Responses are presented with pseudonyms where
appropriate to differentiate sequential responses.
High rank and combat credibility. A prominent theme
was the importance of hearing messages from senior-level
military leadership who had served in combat. Participants
noted that it is highly persuasive to hear testimonials from
leaders such as General Ham, who witnessed the aftermath
of a suicide bomber in a mess hall in Iraq and has spoken publicly about his experiences being screened for PTSD
and receiving counseling from a chaplain (Vanden Brook,
November 25, 2008), and other high-ranking officers speaking openly about their own experiences seeking help for
PTSD. Participants noted that such messages should not
only be aimed at junior enlisted people but also company
commanders and lieutenants. One participant explained the
importance of high ranking officers expressing that seeking
help is acceptable.
And I think what the Army’s doing a better job of now
is getting four-star generals to come out and say, ‘hey it’s
[referring to getting help] not a problem’ . . . So, we got
to, I mean, it’s got to come from the top and I think they’re
In addition to high rank, participants emphasized the preference for message sources to possess combat credibility,
meaning that the sources must have actually experienced
combat situations. When asked to follow up on the idea of
combat credibility, one participant said,
That’s right. This is combat stress, you should have combat credibility. The chaplain telling me about combat stress?
6 Percent agreement is listed in Table 1 next to the frequency for each
variable. After establishing reliability, the coders independently coded all
turns of talk from all three focus groups and resolved any disagreements
ENCOURAGING OTHERS TO SEEK MENTAL HEALTH HELP 433
Frequencies and Percent Agreement for Source, Message, Channel, Receiver, Barriers, and Context Factors
Rank of source
Respect for source
“Barracks lawyer”—source of false information
Focus on benefits of seeking help
Avoiding “PTSD” phrasing
Information for recognizing symptoms
Desire for more positive messages
Specific suggestions for messages and content:
Appeal to moral obligation
Showing you care
General suggestions for messages and content:
Focus on success stories of people seeking help
TV commercials (AFRTS)
Posters in locations around base
Alternatives to PPT presentations
Negative perception of mental health from time enter service
Misperceptions about mental health care in general
Position or rank influencing interpretation of message
Not so helpful because I can immediately blow him off as
someone who doesn’t know.
Also related to combat credibility, one participant spoke
about the persuasiveness of messages he had heard from
people who had been through combat and how one particular presentation by a decorated veteran sparked conversation
within his unit:
We would have combat veterans come in periodically just
to speak to the unit . . . one of them was a former battalion
commander who had both of this legs blown off from an
IED. Well, he never gave up and he had a determination that
he was not going to let that stop his life. And so he came back
and walked in front of the entire unit, and I’ll tell you what—
all the leadership, we just kind of stood in the back and it
was someone like him that sparked conversation amongst all
the lower level, in fact there was a lot of participation in
communicating with somebody like that.
necessarily need to be a commander or platoon sergeant or
whatever but it’s a . . . umm . . . someone who’s (A) been in
a lot of shit and someone who has done the things they’ve
done and they respect that person because this person knows
exactly what I’m dealing with so I feel free to talk to that
person. And if that guy who I know is a warrior tells me that
if that hey, maybe I want to go talk to the docs, that is a good
In a discussion between respondents about whether it is
good for people to encourage peers (as opposed to leaders
encouraging subordinates only), participants noted the role
Respect. In addition to combat credibility, participants
described respect for messages sources, both those encouraging others to get help and those delivering persuasive
Participant (Mike): I think we are selling our soldiers short if
we didn’t think they have meaningful relationships amongst
their peers because they can’t communicate with each other
. . . There is going to be some bad behavior but I think that
the key word is trust. If the soldier gets a recommendation
from someone they trust, whether it’s due to a respectful
relationships or a friendship or whatever, they’re gonna get
Participant (Bob): That’s a good point too and I think it
really ties in with the respect going up and down. The NCO
[noncommissioned officer] leadership is seeing change and
they can either engage them directly or maybe they go to
someone they know he really respects and talk to him.
What I’ve seen is that soldiers who actually have an issue
respond best from people they respect. Now that doesn’t
This exchange demonstrates the need for respect for the
person encouraging seeking help.
From responses of these focus groups, rank and combat
experience, or combat credibility, are issues that message
designers should consider when selecting message sources.
434 CLARK-HITT, SMITH, AND BRODERICK
Trust. Participants underscored the importance of trust,
again, at two levels of the process of persuading people to
encourage others to seek help. First, it is important for the
source attempting to persuade individuals to encourage others to be trusted, and second, that the person encouraging
another to seek help to be a trusted peer or leader. While
participants debated the merit of having a battle buddy be
the one to encourage another to seek help (as opposed to
a superior), those advocating for peers to encourage peers
noted an advantage in having a battle buddy to be the one to
encourage the other to get help, as described next:
In our branch of service very rarely is somebody going to,
if they see someone with a problem or generally that person
with a problem will not actively on occasion seek help for
fear of repercussions at the soldier level. So the advantage
of having a peer, or a battle buddy or a leader advising you
to do it, it will get you out of your shell, possibly, to go and
seek the help he needs because it is someone trusted.
One participant explained that trust is a more important factor for the message source than the relationship between the
sender and receiver (e.g., peer to peer):
That’s why I was saying the word mechanism because what
you were saying is trust or respect is a better mechanism than
just peer to peer being sole mechanism.
This participant argued that the rank or role of the encourager is not as important as the level of trust in the person
doing the encouraging.
“Barracks lawyers”. As a counterpoint to trusted peers
encouraging individuals to seek help, participants noted that
there are problems with “barracks lawyers,” described as
young enlisted troops who have heard many rumors and give
advice such that people trust him even if he or she is “full of
it”; thus, this is an overly trusted source who could provide
One of the biggest disadvantages I’ve seen is the barracks
lawyer, the guy who thinks he knows everything about army
regulations and he might have a grand total of 18 months
in the service. He is the source of disinformation in the
unit and a lot of times that guy will prevent . . . cause he’ll
tell you’re going to screw your career, you’ll never make
sergeant, blah blah blah, stupid comments that are not true
just cause someone sought help.
Source credibility was discussed across all groups as nencessary for persuasive messages. Overall, participants preferred
for sources to be trusted, respected, and to have combat
Participants discussed features of both official and unofficial messages they have received about encouraging others
to get help, as well as message characteristics they would
like to see in the future. First, they noted that messages
should contain content about successes of people who have
sought help, information about the signs they should be
looking for in others, and the use of “combat stress” versus “PTSD” terminology. Second, participants described the
importance of interpretation of message content by people
at different ranks. Third, they discussed positive and negative connotations of messages and preferences for positive
Benefits of seeking help. Participants noted personal
testimonials illustrating benefits of treatment from those
for whom treatment was effective would provide valuable
Another issue, is that, this image that we perpetuate is that
all we ever hear is the stories that went wrong. We get the
briefs about the guy that committed suicide and shoots up
the combat stress unit in Baghdad, we never get the story of
how it helped someone. And our Army doesn’t do that at all.
If I click on, go on AKO on news, it’s gonna show me everyone who kills themselves. Of the 17 that killed themselves in
August, it doesn’t tell me how many got helped.
Based on responses here, messages should incorporate
examples of successful treatment and positive outcomes
for those who have sought help to illustrate benefits of
Avoiding “PTSD” terminology. Several participants
noted that they felt that messages they have received were
overly focused on “disorder” as in PTSD, making it seem
pathological and setting it up as a self-fulfilling prophecy,
potentially allowing those with the diagnosis to use it as
an excuse to lean on. To alleviate these problems, participants suggested that messages should not focus on “PTSD,”
but instead on “combat stress,” which avoids making it
seem like a permanent disorder. Notably, the Army has
changed official communications to use the language “combat and operational stress reactions” rather than “PTSD.”
One participant noted:
Disorder—yeah, stop calling it disorder. Like it’s—we’ve
changed it in the pub, the Army’s pub to FM 4-02.51, which
I did not know, so that’s a poor advertisement on the part of
doctrine, but it’s combat operational stress control.
Another participant followed up a little later, saying, “The
word’s not hit the street because this is the first time I’ve
heard that term” (in reference to COSR instead of PTSD).
Thus, one suggestion is that message designers carefully
Information for recognizing symptoms: Signs to look
for. Additional desired message content issue concerns
signs to look for. Participants stated that they receive messages with instructions such as “keep your eyes open” and
ENCOURAGING OTHERS TO SEEK MENTAL HEALTH HELP 435
“look for signs,” but they do not know what specific symptoms or behaviors to look for, especially if a person hides his
or her troubles.
It’s very similar to walking a patrol, cause they say “Keep
your eyes open and look for the signs.” It’s the same thing
I do looking for booby traps, so I mean they don’t tell me
what the signs are, you know, depression, I can’t tell, a guy
may be depressed at home but not depressed at work, or hide
it . . . That’s the messages we constantly are getting is “keep
your eyes open and watch for it,” and usually by the time
you figure it out, it’s too late, or it’s getting too late.
Thus, messages providing information to educate about
signs and symptoms may be beneficial.
Desire for more positive messages. Participants
stated a desire to stop receiving negative messages.
Participants desired messages emphasizing positive stories
such as successes of individuals who have sought help and
returned to work, not negative stories like suicides and violence. For example, participants noted feeling that the bulk
of news stories revolve around events such as a service
member who shot people at a combat stress clinic in Iraq
(summer 2009) and a rising number of military suicides.
Participants suggested messages should shift in focus from
numbers of suicides to the numbers who have sought help
and had positive outcomes.
Well it’s a double-edged sword, also cause you don’t hear
the good stories, a lot of people are going seeking counseling
you don’t hear the good stories. But you definitely hear about
somebody who cracked up or commits suicide or, ya know,
got kicked out of the Army, you hear those stories because
the media and everything. But not the good news stories.
Those creating messages should consider positive stories to
counter negative news stories.
Channels such a television, posters, and educational presentations were discussed by the participants. They noted
positive and negative aspects of these channels.
AFRTS commercials. Respondents were impressed
by television commercials such as those featuring Admiral
Mullen that aired on Armed Forces Television (AFRTS) in
overseas locations such as Japan and Germany. Participants
were concerned, however, that while the message and source
were persuasive, they were not as effective as they could be
because the AFRTS TV station may not reach the desired
audience. People in locations with AFRTS may not experience combat stress such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One participant explained:
And so I think Admiral Mullen . . . made a commercial
about seeking help for stress reaction or I think he called
it PTSD I think, but the only place I saw that was on
overseas armed forces television, like AFRTS. Probably
because that’s the only place they can afford airtime or whatever but if I’m getting AFRTS [Armed Forces TV] I’m in
Korea or Okinawa or Germany and I’m probably not all
that stressed out from combat. But I thought that commercial was very good because you’ve got the senior military
uniformed representative in that country talking directly to
service members saying “I understand stigma but you’ve
gotta get help because we need you in the fight.” All the
things he said in there were exactly on message but nobody
Thus, wider dissemination of messages at other military
posts may be helpful.
Posters. Participants noted that posters published by
Military One Source are useful because the messages are
accessible to both active duty members as well as their families, thus providing family members with information for
how to obtain help.
There was one effective way that targeted a military audience
and that was kind of posters that were placed up around post
whether it be at the commissary or the PX or even at the
individual units and the gyms, where not only the military
member would be but also the family members would be
and it was kind of a short and direct message on there if
you think there may be issues with PTSD and please call or
contact and it gives points of contact and locations where
they can go.
This participant noted posters displayed at the commissary,
post exchange (PX), and base gym for wide accessibility to
spouses, families, and active-duty personnel.
Educational forums and alternatives to presentations. Participants described receiving educational information via presentations during briefings. Participants noted
that briefings are often delivered by NCOs (noncommissioned officers) or commanders who are not experts in
mental health issues. One participant noted that medical professionals provide treatment, but often non-mental health
professionals deliver classes instead of medical personnel.
You have professionals give you shots, and only professionals give you medications or pills, but for consideration of
others you have a commander or E7 [7th enlisted rank],
somebody who gives a class, and it’s totally foreign to
them. It’s not a professional giving a class about preventing
Following from the discussion of nonexperts delivering
briefings, participants suggested officers should read case
studies and group discussion about how to handle the situation to allow them to consider scenarios and hear others’
stories and advice for handling such situations.
436 CLARK-HITT, SMITH, AND BRODERICK
Participants discussed receiver factors in terms of perceptions held by service members and how respondents read
between the lines of messages because of their leadership
Negative perceptions of mental health. Participants
described a common perception before entering the service
that seeing a psychologist is negative because if a recruit has
a history of receiving mental health help, they require a new
psychological consultation. Participants observed that it is
difficult to make sense of whether it is good to seek mental
I don’t know if anyone else has been on touring recruiting
duty—but when you’re trying to enlist kids and they’ve seen
a psychiatrist, they’re automatically disqualified until they
get a psychiatric consult to verify that they’re not crazy . . .
so when you come in the Army you already know that psychologist equals bad. So they’re like why is that going to
change all of a sudden now that I’m in the Army? And so
there is something to overcome there with the way that the
Army treats mental health in general.
This receiver characteristic should be taken in to account to
address common concerns.
Misperceptions of mental health care. In addition
to perceptions that seeking mental health care is negative,
a participant described misperceptions about mental health
I think people come into the army with the stigma of
what counseling therapy is and I think, it’s, if the leader’s
approach that, that it’s not necessarily not what it is advertised to be, it might actually help and it’s something positive
and a growing experience.
One area for message design could be refuting misperceptions and providing factual information about what mental
health care services provide.
Position or rank influencing interpretation of
message. Another receiver factor relates to organizational position. Participants noted that as leaders they are
responsible for subordinates’ behaviors, and if one commits
suicide they will suffer negative career consequences. For
example, one participant noted that posters saying “One is
too many” (suicides) are read by officers as a statement that
one has failed as a leader if one subordinate commits suicide;
other participants agreed with this interpretation.
Another issue we have, we have a headline of that poster
right down the hallway, the Army saying “one suicide is one
too many.” So it means if you have a suicide, then you’re at
fault, you’re a failure. So basically it puts it on, it’s my fault.
And yeah, we can endorse some warning signs out there, but
sometimes they’re not there.
Another participant added to the comment regarding the
“one suicide is too many” message, underscoring the concern for negative consequences:
The image that we’re given in the Army, if you screw this
up, you didn’t identify it, you’re relieved of duty and yeah,
your career is over.
These ideas demonstrate the importance of recognizing that
particular messages may have unintended negative consequences and the importance of pilot testing messages.
Specific Suggestions for Messages and Content
Participants provided ideas for specific message content and
sources for persuasive messages. Some also provided ideas
for targeting individuals to seek help; thus, message suggestions are divided in to messages targeting encouragers and
messages for help-seeking.
Messages targeting encourager: Appeal to moral
obligation and showing you care. For messages targeting individuals to encourage others to seek help, participants
emphasized the responsibility or moral obligation to help
someone get needed help. When asked what type of content they would use in a public service announcement, one
participant noted the importance of emphasizing that people
should not feel guilty for encouraging someone to get help.
We were very effective at getting the message out in the ’80s
and ’90s of if you stop a guy from driving drunk you are his
friend, you’re not a stick in the mud. If you stop a guy from
committing suicide, you are his friend. You’re not intruding
on his, business, so just add stress reaction to that.
Similarly, another participant in the same group suggested
“show that you care,” and one suggested, “It is okay to take
a knee,” or “help a buddy take a knee,” explaining in this
At [moderator’s institution] do you ever use the phrase to
“take a knee”? In the Army it means it’s time to take a rest,
if you’re like running and you’ve got to take a rest, you take
a knee. I think you can tell some culture you know, help your
buddy help himself if he’s too stubborn to take a knee . . . It
would kind of appeal to, like in the sense of, you’re kind
of obligated to help your buddy. If he’s not going to help
himself, if he’s too stubborn to take a knee, you kind of have
to help him.
These suggestions for message content may provide direction for future interventions for framing encouraging seeking
help as being a good friend, and the idea of helping someone
General messages for help-seeking: Focus on success stories and reduce stigma. While the topic of
the focus group was about encouraging others to seek
help, participants sometimes discussed directly persuading
ENCOURAGING OTHERS TO SEEK MENTAL HEALTH HELP 437
individuals to seek help. These message ideas may be valuable for informing messages targeting encouragers. One
participant suggested messages should focus on benefits of
mental health services, particularly for providing coping
Just like coping skills and . . . We will teach you how to
cope, we will teach you how to cope, learn how to cope.
Participants also suggested it is important to “try to convince
them there’s no stigma” with seeking mental health help,
underscoring the importance of stigma-reducing message
Source. For message source and content, one participant’s suggestion for a persuasive message or public service
announcement about seeking help was:
Go find heroes who these men they look up to who have
metals for valor. Put them on the poster with their quote,
stressing things that are temporary, normal, expected, and
This sums up many of the ideas from the focus groups in
terms of treating combat stress as a normal reaction, that
others have sought help (“you are not alone”), and that
by getting help it can be temporary. Participants emphasized messages should come from someone service members
“know, trust and respect” and preference for sources with
combat credibility, high rank, respect, and trustworthiness.
These responses answer research questions concerning military members’ preferred source, message, and channel, as
well as receiver factors to consider. Message factors included
benefits of seeking help, positive stories of coping, avoiding PTSD terminology, and providing signs to look for. For
channels, participants suggested posters in common areas
and case studies. Finally, participants noted receiver factors
such as misperceptions and mistrust of mental health services, and how rank or position may influence perceptions.
This study has implications for message design and theoretical investigation. Literature demonstrating that perceived
encouragement or support from others and support from
coworkers predict positive attitudes about and use of mental health services underscores the need for understanding
the features of persuasive messages that individuals associate with encouraging others to seek help. While this study
focused on messages specific to the military, several suggestions may be applicable in other contexts in which message
designers are targeting individuals who may persuade others, for example, focusing on benefits, providing credible
sources who have been successfully helped, and information
about signs to watch for in others.
For messages for military personnel, the findings suggest
that it is important for sources to possess and convey combat
credibility, as participants cited the best messages they have
seen as those presented by high-ranking officers with combat
experience who had sought help themselves; these messages
demonstrate that respected others approve of using mental
health services, and that a high-ranking member can maintain rank within the organization after seeking help. Such
messages would also exemplify benefits of treatment and
examples of people with successful outcomes. The idea that
military personnel have misperceptions or negative perceptions about mental health care is an area that could benefit
from information about services and positive outcomes people have experienced, for example, the idea about helping
people learn to cope. Responses also underscore the importance of receiver characteristics and how messages may be
perceived to reduce chances they will inadvertently be taken
This study points to further research on barriers and contextual factors about encouraging others to seek help for
problems for which there may be stigma associated with
seeking help, such as depression, substance abuse, and relationship problems (Tanielian & Jaycox, 2008). For example,
messages should address perceived barriers and provide
refutations where appropriate. Stigma concern is a widely
identified barrier in literature on the military, and it is also
likely to apply to encouraging others because the encourager
may fear stigma for endorsing help-seeking. Messages about
successes from sources with combat credibility may reduce
perceptions of stigma. Another area involves theoretical relationships among receiving an encouraging message about
seeking help, perceptions of stigma, norms about seeking
help, and intentions to seek help. Armed Forces Television
(AFRTS) was noted as a good channel, although the message
does not necessarily reach the intended audience. That channel may indeed be influential if viewers recall messages later
when it is relevant and if the message increases perceptions
of positive norms.
One limitation is that research with only one rank does
not provide a full picture of how those at other ranks may
respond. The advantage of interviewing majors, however,
is their extensive leadership experience. While there are
several barriers that may inhibit willingness to encourage
others to seek help, there are source, message, channel, and
receiver factors that may be used to increase encouraging
help-seeking, including those reported here.
The authors thank the individuals at the research office at the
Army post where the focus groups were conducted for their
assistance facilitating this research and the participants for
sharing their valuable time and insights.
438 CLARK-HITT, SMITH, AND BRODERICK
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Running head: [STUDENT NAME ± RU ID]
Background and Strategic Communication Objectives
First detected in 2014, the spotted lanternfly is an invasive insect that is wreaking havoc
on states in the mid-Atlantic United States (Barringer et al., 2015; Lee et al., 2019). Not only
does the spotted lanternfly upset local ecological webs, but it can disrupt American industries
and serve as a nuisance for the general public (Urban, 2019). Frankly, this pest will not cease to
multiply and inflict damage without extensive measures to prevent its spread. Luckily, there is
DWWLWXGHWRZDUGWKHVSRWWHGODQWHUQIO\¶VPLWLJDWLRQPHWKRGVLQPLG-Atlantic college students
through online communication that stresses the attitudes of valued others. That way, individuals
may voluntarily adopt the behavior of inspecting for and ridding outdoor surfaces of egg masses
and later, sharing their findings with their friends to jumpstart a movement.
My core message is that we must adopt spotted lanternfly mitigation methods to avoid
mass destruction across the United States. To convey this, I will use an emotional appeal±
precisely, that of fear. When induced, fear motivates people to protect themselves and their loved
ones from risks (Rogers, 1975). Suppose both the perceived threat and a recommended action are
communicated effectively via storytelling. In that case, if not salient before, the spotted
mitigation behaviors (Rogers, 1975). That said, the narrative format is valuable; by tracking
cookie metrics, Stubb (2018) showed that viewers paid significantly more attention to blog posts
that harnessed it compared to those that were purely informational. This is because, on the one
hand, mid-Atlantic college students with low ego involvement can be drawn to engage in any
Running head: [STUDENT NAME ± RU ID]
given cause through transportation (Stubb, 2018). Meanwhile, those who already view the
VSRWWHGODQWHUQIO\¶VHIIHFWVDVpersonally relevant can be validated by hearing the perspectives of
valued others and will be prompted to explore how to cope better. Lastly, I will frame the overall
message in terms of gains. According to Prospect Theory, doing so tends to result in risk-averse
behavior, which is essential since this strategy aims to minimize the damage that the spotted
lanternfly is inflicting on the mid-Atlantic United States (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979).
According to Balance Theory, valued others such as influencers will motivate members
of my target audience to accept my core message (Nelson, 2001). Carter (2006) defines
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significant since the nature of their popularity depends on the creation of intimate bonds on the
internet (Hudders et al., 2020). Vloggers, in particular, maintain a sense of likeability and
credibility with their audience by sharing personal details (Marôpo et al., 2018). First, by
revealing their interests, hobbies, preferences, and daily activities, influencers provide their
audiences with various opportunities to relate to them, hence increasing feelings of likeability
(Hudders et al., 2020). Another key factor in predicting the success of influencers is the need to
distinguish themselves from other profiles. For this reason, some strategically appeal to certain
niches like food, beauty, or travel, which allows them to be perceived as credible experts in that
domain (Carter, 2006). Thus, selecting influencers such as vloggers who are both apt at forming
Running head: [STUDENT NAME ± RU ID]
personal connections and seen as knowledgeable in the environmental sciences is critical to the
success of this strategy.
Dissemination Channel and Vehicle
Furthermore, this persuasive communication strategy will be executed over social media;
specifically, YouTube will be the channel, and the vehicle will be a vlog. Vlogs, also known as
video blogs, are typically documentary-style monologues in which the influencer, or vlogger,
speaks directly to the camera about what is going on in their lives (Marôpo et al., 2018).