Cross-Agency Evaluation of DoD, VA, and HHS Mental Health Public Awareness Campaigns: Analysis of Campaign Scope, Content, and Reach
Jan 29, 2020
Photo by Linda Lambiotte/ASC Public Affairs
The materials designed to raise awareness of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA's) Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) constitute one of four federally funded mental health public awareness campaigns that RAND is evaluating as part of a cross-agency evaluation (funded by the Department of Defense Psychological Health Center of Excellence) aimed at improving the mental health of service members and veterans. A cross-agency evaluation report describes the campaigns' overlapping and unique scope and content, as well as cross-campaign dissemination efforts. Based on the cross-agency evaluation report, this brief about VCL awareness materials is one in a series examining the individual campaigns' messages, the consistency of messaging in their materials, and the tools they use to deliver content to their audiences. Because the results presented here are from an evaluation of the four campaigns' collective reach and impact, they are not intended to serve as a full and comprehensive evaluation of the VCL campaign. It should also be noted that this evaluation focuses on the materials designed to raise awareness of VCL and not on the functioning or operations of the crisis line itself.
The following are some key findings about the VCL awareness campaign from the RAND research team's content analysis of campaign materials, an analysis of campaign-collected communication metrics, and a panel of experts who assessed the extent to which the VCL campaign's content and design align with best practices for mental health public awareness campaigns.
Of the 201 pieces of VCL content reviewed, 75 percent was tailored to the friends and families of veterans, and 14 percent was tailored to veterans themselves. Nearly all materials focused on communicating treatment options and resources, providing examples of how friends and family can help, or connecting individuals to the crisis line.
Virtually all VCL campaign content clearly communicated its stated messages. In addition, the campaign content supported messages that corresponded with shared goals across the campaigns being evaluated (for example, offering resources for those in crisis).
VCL campaign materials generally adhered to best practices. Experts also indicated that the communication channels used by VCL were appropriate for its target audience, messengers were credible, and the campaign used evidence-based messages.
Despite relying on published research findings and internal experts to develop the materials, VCL materials intentionally omit source information. The campaign staff strategically minimized citations to avoid appearing overly technical and to appeal to the target audience. However, this design choice could make it difficult for users to judge credibility or seek out more information.
increase in website sessions from 2012 to 2015
In 2015, the VCL website played host to more than 930,000 sessions. Although the other campaigns in the evaluation had more web traffic, VCL saw the greatest increase in website sessions since 2012, at 155 percent. VCL was the only campaign to consistently increase its reach every year.
The other campaigns in the evaluation all cross-reference or link to VCL, but VCL links to only one of the other campaigns. There might be other opportunities for the four campaigns' websites to link to each other as resources.
pieces of VCL campaign material were distributed
VCL conducts much of its outreach through conferences and events. The campaign had a presence at 207 events—compared with 32 for the campaign with the second-most-active calendar—and distributed nearly 9.5 million pieces of campaign material.
The VCL campaign lacks an active Facebook page, Twitter handle, or YouTube channel.
VCL aired 128,948 radio PSAs and 43,616 television PSAs, for a combined 981 million impressions (the number of audience members who might have been exposed to the PSAs). That is about 2 percent of the 42.9 billion impressions for the four campaigns combined.
Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro/U.S. Department of Defense
The experts recommended several approaches to improving VCL's campaign materials. See the full report for a complete list of recommendations based on the cross-campaign analysis.