New research shows public health messages about preventing suicides involving firearms are more likely to be successful if they acknowledge the values and beliefs of gun owners. Forbes magazine delved into this important research and asked Professor Avery Holton to weigh in on how the findings affect communication about guns and suicide.
The study showed gun owners in rural areas who held more conservative political beliefs and more strongly supported gun rights were much more likely to consider temporarily restricting firearm access from someone at high risk for suicide if a public health message emphasized the importance of the Second Amendment and being a responsible gun owner.
Holton agreed with the researchers’ findings that health communication messages can never be “culture neutral.” As quoted in the story, he said:
“We can attempt to achieve neutrality on a number of levels, but we almost always have a form of existing or developed bias. Each of our cultural backgrounds drives how we see the world and act within it. Thusly, media messages or other messages cannot be culturally neutral because they are filtered through the cultures of individuals.” This is especially true with a polarizing issue such as firearms since political and religious beliefs, and media exposure, can affect individuals’ beliefs about gun safety, he said.
A strength of the study, Holton said, was its focus on rural populations’ attitudes since suicide rates are higher in rural areas. The study is an interesting, important step in tailoring public health messages to be more effective, he said, because the authors are exploring “how particular cultural cues can be used for particular audiences to potentially reduce suicide or, at the very least, access to guns during times of suicidal thought.”
Holton noted that research over the past decade has revealed how much more relatable narratives are than summaries of facts.
“In other words, we tend to understand information better when it's provided through a story we can relate to,” he said. “Relatability can play a big role when trying to help people understand, process and positively act on health information.”