Prevention Science

, Volume 20, Issue 6, pp 884–893 | Cite as

Should We Activate Risk Perceptions in the Context of Suicide Prevention? Examining Fear Appeals, Help-Seeking Determinants, and Help-Seeking Sources Among University Employees Who Suffer from Depression

  • Jennifer A. LueckEmail author


Health promotion strategies have largely focused on activating risk perceptions for health conditions in resistant at-risk populations in order to induce behavior change. Yet, doing so remains a questionable approach when promoting help-seeking behaviors among individuals who suffer from depression because clinical symptoms can negatively affect interpretations and responses to such efforts. This study sought to test the effects and effectiveness of risk-based health messaging utilizing fear appeals on help-seeking determinants, intentions, and sources. One hundred seventeen university employees affected by symptoms of depression were recruited to participate in a lab-based experimental setting. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three message conditions that differed in strength of fear appeal (low, moderate, high) when inducing suicide risk perceptions and promoting help-seeking. Consistent with previous research, participants indicated high stigma perceptions and low intentions to seek help. Risk-based messaging strategies such as fear appeals did not have an effect on help-seeking intentions in this sample. Intentions were largely determined by positive outcome expectations and social norms, whereas efficacy perceptions were positive and not a predictor of help-seeking intentions. Participants were most likely to seek help from intimate partners and friends and least likely to utilize a help-line. Health promotion messages should contain cues that activate, rather than change, the already positive outcome expectations of seeking help when targeting at-risk populations. Future research should explore possibilities for health promotion and education among support networks of those who suffer from depression and anxiety.


Suicide prevention Depression Health communication Reasoned action theory Fear appeals 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest. This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendment or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

11121_2019_979_MOESM1_ESM.docx (619 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 618 kb)


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Copyright information

© Society for Prevention Research 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of CommunicationTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA

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