Public service announcements to change attitudes about youth suicide: A randomized controlled trial
Ftanou, M., Ross, A., Machlin, A., Spittal, M.J., King, K., Nicholas, A., ... Pirkis, J.
Youth suicide is a major public health concern worldwide. Public service announcements (PSAs) may have a role in suicide prevention, as part of broader suicide prevention campaigns.
We conducted a double-blind four arm randomized controlled trial in which 18 to 24 year olds were allocated to watch one of three suicide prevention PSAs intervention PSAs or a control PSA. Participants provided data prior to viewing their allocated PSA and again four weeks after viewing it. Our primary outcome was a change in participants’ attitudes toward the preventability of suicide, and analysis was conducted on an intention-to-treat basis.
A total of 349 participants were randomized to one of four groups and 266 participants provided pre and post viewing data. Across the four groups, no significant change was observed in our primary outcome: attitudes toward the preventability of suicide (p = .455). There were also no differences between groups on secondary outcomes, namely other attitudes toward suicide (permissiveness, incomprehensibility, avoidance and loneliness), risk taking behavior, levels of distress, suicidal ideation, and likelihood of help-seeking and actual help-seeking.
Our study has highlighted that attitudes and help-seeking intentions in young adults are difficult to change with low intensity one-off exposure to PSA messages. Further research is required to understand the factors that contribute to safe and effective messaging about suicide prevention.