Research Questions

  1. How effective was the LACDMH's COVID-19 mental health outreach campaign?
  2. What challenges were county residents grappling with during the initial months of the pandemic?
  3. What was the reach of the campaign and its likely impact on knowledge, attitudes, behavior, and well-being?
  4. Which online communities were reached by LACDMH's outreach on Twitter?
  5. To what extent were themes of LACDMH's COVID-19 mental health campaign (e.g., resources, support, hope) reflected in Twitter discussions?

In response to the emergence of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and to policies designed to limit its spread (e.g., shutdowns, stay-at-home orders, and social distancing), the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) launched a social marketing campaign intended to (1) promote awareness of county mental health resources and services and (2) communicate messages of resilience, community, hope, and support. Outreach efforts focused on outdoor media, radio and television advertising, and social media.

To gauge the campaign's effectiveness, RAND evaluators conducted a survey of Los Angeles County residents that was designed to determine the challenges that county adults and youth were grappling with during the initial months of the pandemic; the reach of the campaign to these two age groups; and the likely impact of the campaign on their knowledge, attitudes, behavior, and well-being.

Evaluators also conducted an analysis of mental health–related posts on Twitter in Los Angeles County during the same period. The goal of this effort was to understand which online communities were reached by LACDMH's efforts, what these communities were discussing in relation to the pandemic and mental health, and the extent to which themes of the LACDMH campaign were part of those discussions in relation to other mental health discussions happening among the broader population of county residents using the platform.

Key Findings

The survey addressed (1) the issues that county residents encountered during the pandemic, (2) the reach of the campaign and its components, and (3) the campaign's impact

  • Los Angeles County residents were experiencing many stressors during the initial months of the shutdown.
  • A majority of respondents reported some form of exposure to the campaign over a relatively short period. The campaign was particularly effective in reaching Black and Hispanic residents.
  • Los Angeles County residents exposed to the campaign were about twice as likely to be aware of the information and resources offered by LACDMH and were significantly more likely to say the agency is there for them if they need help.

The Twitter analysis focused on mentions in tweets of the conveyed key campaign messages and on the pattern of interactions among those discussing COVID-19 and mental health

  • LACDMH campaign messages were represented within the larger discussion of COVID-19 and mental health on Twitter, especially in the community with which LACDMH interacts directly.
  • An additional community largely representing California state government offices addressed the discussion, picking up and boosting the LACDMH campaign.
  • There was no evidence of broad reach into Los Angeles County Twitter communities discussing mental health that did not directly interact with Los Angeles County or state government.

Overall, there is evidence that the LACDMH COVID-19 campaign successfully reached Los Angeles County residents, fostered a feeling of support among those it reached, and conveyed how to seek mental health help

Recommendations

  • LACDMH should leverage the strong reach of the campaign by providing messages that are stronger and easier to recall, along with messages that are more easily turned into action.
  • Future social media campaigns should proactively reach out to and engage key influencers in relevant social media communities to broaden the audience for their mental health messages.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was funded the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA) and conducted by RAND Health Care.

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