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Health literacy campaign focused on depression in African Americans

Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky faculty used research-based strategy for campaign development Health literacy campaign focused on depression in African Americans

Depression is Real

“When Mom died it was like my heart was yanked out,” said Hazel Scott. “I never smiled, and I didn’t care about anything.”

Hazel was one of five community members, along with health experts, psychologists and UofL faculty with expertise in health disparities, who helped design a health literacy campaign that began Nov. 14. The ‘Depression is Real’ campaign was aimed at helping African Americans in West Louisville find help for depression, a common but serious mental health condition. The effort included radio ads, posters, TARC ads, website and social media posts, along with a public outreach component at grocery stores, churches and community centers.

“We know one in 10 African Americans struggle with depression; those with few resources are particularly susceptible due to mental health disparities like persistent discrimination, physiological and psychological stress and sometimes clinician implicit bias,” said Ryan Combs, Ph.D., M.A., an assistant professor for the Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky, an entity of the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences.

Combs says health literacy is a critical factor for good health, and it affects a person’s ability to navigate health services and make appropriate health decisions. The campaign messaging developed through community-based participatory research sought to raise awareness and understanding of depression among West Louisville residents and improve outcomes for those living with depression. The key messages were: depression is real; you don’t have to suffer; you are not alone; and there are options to help you get better. The ads directed individuals to call 2-1-1, a phone line through Metro United Way dedicated to connecting people to needed services.

Scott says although she experienced depression for several months during her time of grief, it was her faith and church, along with her work in a labor and delivery unit at a local hospital, that helped her regain joy.

Although Scott recovered without the help of a health care provider, she understood that sometimes it is needed. But, she says it can be difficult for those in the African American community to seek help.

“Sometimes Black people are afraid to ask, we can be suspicious at times to even allow others to know we are struggling,” she said.

Scott's hope was that people facing depression will see the campaign messages and talk to someone who can help.

Depression was one of several topics Combs and his team will explore through the end of 2017 as part of the health literacy research project funded through the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence. The Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness also was a partner on the ‘Depression is Real’ campaign, which ran through Dec. 25.

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