Reaching those at risk for psychiatric disorders and suicidal ideation: Facebook advertisements to recruit military veterans

Alan R. Teo, Samuel B.L. Liebow, Benjamin Chan, Steven K. Dobscha, Amanda L. Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: Younger military veterans are at high risk for psychiatric disorders and suicide. Reaching and engaging veterans in mental health care and research is challenging. Social media platforms may be an effective channel to connect with veterans. Objective: This study tested the effectiveness of Facebook advertisements in reaching and recruiting Iraq and Afghanistan-era military veterans in a research study focused on mental health. Methods: Facebook ads requesting participation in an online health survey ran for six weeks in 2017. Ads varied imagery and headlines. Validated instruments were used to screen for psychiatric disorders and suicidality. Outcomes included impressions, click-through rate, survey completion, and cost per survey completed. Results: Advertisements produced 827,918 impressions, 9,527 clicks, and 587 survey completions. Lack of enrollment in Veterans Affairs health care (193/587, 33%) and positive screens for current mental health problems were common, including posttraumatic stress disorder (266/585, 45%), problematic drinking (243/584, 42%), major depression (164/586, 28%), and suicidality (132/585, 23%). Approximately half of the survey participants (285/587, 49%) were recruited with just 2 of the 15 ads, which showed soldiers marching tied to an “incentive” or “sharing” headline. These 2 ads were also the most cost-effective, at US $4.88 and US $5.90 per participant, respectively. Among veterans with current suicidal ideation, the survey-taking image resulted in higher survey completion than the soldiers marching image (P=.007). Conclusions: Facebook advertisements are effective in rapidly and inexpensively reaching military veterans, including those at risk for mental health problems and suicidality, and those not receiving Veterans Affairs health care. Advertisement image and headlines may help optimize the effectiveness of advertisements for specific subgroups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere10078
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
Volume20
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2018

Keywords

  • Facebook
  • Methodology
  • Social media
  • Veterans
  • Veterans Affairs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics

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