MIRECC / CoE
VISN 2 Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention
Elizabeth Karras, PhD
AREAS OF EXPERTISE
- Health communication
- Use of communication strategies in public health approaches to suicide prevention
- Health behavior
My research interests largely focus on the use of communication strategies in public health approaches to suicide prevention with domains of inquiry designed to inform the development of evidence-based messaging. More specifically, my program of research employs a systematic, theory-driven approach to examine the mechanisms and effects of public messaging to prevent and reduce risk behaviors related to suicide among military and veteran populations.
Currently, I maintain multiple research lines that examine the (a) formative process of message design and (b) summative evaluation of messaging strategies to examine the persuasive effects on attitude and behavior change to understand their social influence. This includes mixed methods studies to identify message characteristics salient to veteran audiences at increased risk for suicide and implementation strategies (e.g., community-based) to enhance message effects as well as longitudinal, population studies to assess changes in outcomes associated with VA campaign and outreach efforts. Findings from this scholarship contribute to a nascent but significantly underdeveloped body of research that examines the role of strategic communication to help reduce population suicide risk.
PRACTICE & INNOVATION
My research program intends to improve Veteran health by influencing individual and community-level factors that drive and support their help seeking behaviors. I consider public messaging an integral component to suicide prevention to be used to shift individual characteristics (e.g., knowledge, attitudes) that increase the likelihood for behavior change, and to support the development of larger social environments (e.g., shift social norms) that validate and motivate healthy practices and impede those considered unhealthy. Such communicative intervention offers the VA an opportunity to overcome some of the challenges it faces for suicide prevention by: (1) reaching vast yet defined populations not limited by audience characteristics (e.g., VHA use) or geographic location (e.g., rural vs. urban); (2) intervening prior to the development of suicidal thoughts and behaviors as well as address acute risk; and (3) promoting mental health without necessarily increasing the burden on the health care system.