For this project, I created three demo public service announcements (PSAs) for the radio targeted at students attending the University of Michigan suffering from depression. Although not actually used by Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at the University of Michigan, I created these ads with this organization and its members’ needs in mind.
While the primary target audience for my public service announcements is the students at the University of Michigan suffering from depression, a secondary audience is the general student body at the University of Michigan. The focus in the PSAs is on helping students overcome barriers for seeking help related to perceived stigma attached to mental illness. Through these PSAs, I wanted to change negative perceptions of both descriptive and injunctive norms connected to the perceived prevalence of mental illness and the number of students seeking help so that their overall subjective norms related to these constructs positively increase, influencing their intention to act (as modeled in the Theory of Planned Behavior).
In each PSA, three different individuals say a phrase that seems innocuous, but subtly hints that something is wrong. As the ad plays, these phrases are merged into a single phrase that indicates what these three individuals would actually like to express but never actually state. The merged phrases are “I want to talk,” I feel empty,” and “I feel alone.” This is followed by a narrator which states: “Sometimes it’s hidden in the words around us. Over one third of University of Michigan Students experience depression during their time in college.” Information on how to access CAPS for help follows this, ending in the phrase “We’re here for you and want to listen” or “At CAPS, we’re here for you.”
By providing several different voices in each of the PSAs, the subtext I communicate to the listener is that many students at the University of Michigan experience depression but do not directly vocalize it, rendering it less visible. The goal here is to affect the perceived descriptive norms of those listening so that depression is plausibly more prevalent that they may currently perceive. This is then directly stated by the phrase that follows, combined with a statistic. For a depressed student, part of the intent of this ad is to make them feel less isolated. For the general student body, the PSAs attempt to pull back the curtain and show that depression is more prevalent than many students may think.
The statement “join the many students that use our services every day” is designed to positively affect the perceived descriptive norm of depressed students accessing help. There is also a subtly implied injunctive norm in this statement that other students approve of seeking mental health help. At a higher level, the PSAs are written using the pronoun “we” so that there is no separation between depressed students, the general student body, and the institution of the University of Michigan to avoid stigmatizing depressed students and emphasizing the injunctive norm that seeking mental health is something that is acceptable at a general level.
The ad follows the general structure of the Heath brothers “SUCCES” Model. At the ads close, it wraps up with a simple message: “At CAPS, we’re here for you” (in one version “We’re here for you and want to listen”). This is the completion of the central core message of the ad: “Many students at the University of Michigan quietly suffer from depression, but there are resources to help that many students regularly use.” The ad is unexpected because it combines phrases which may be commonly heard in conversation into statements that more directly indicate the person’s feelings. It’s concrete in the descriptive and emotive phrases that the students say and the actions that are advised by the narrator (visit CAPS followed by a phone number). It’s credible because it would come from the University of Michigan and include voices of real students. It’s emotional because of the tone of the student voices. Finally, each statement from every student tells a mini-story, which together tells a communal story of those needing and wanting help for their depression.