Director's Cut: Creating the Mental Health PSA
Director’s Cut is a training program by psychologists for high school students on creating mental health Public Service Announcements (PSAs). While the overall goal is to cultivate positive attitudes towards psychology and decrease stigma, students also find mentors, interact with industry professionals and legislators.
This three-phase initiative brings psychology professionals out of the office and into high school classrooms. Students are taught how to make a PSA, and how to condense a psychology topic (e.g., social anxiety, eating disorder, acculturation, etc.) into a one-minute public service message. Phase I is preparation by the teacher, while Phase II is direct instruction by psychologists in the art of effective and powerful communication. Psychologists also serve as mentors in thesis topic selection. In Phase III the finalized videos are: 1) posted on a YouTube channel; 2) presented to industry professionals (e.g. a PSA on eating disorders is presented to the staff at Eating Recovery Center) thereby helping students build a career ladder; and 3) presented to legislators at a High School Advocacy Day in Sacramento California. Finally, in an awards ceremony at a Student Research Conference, finalist PSA videos are screened and awards are presented.
Director’s Cut is resourceful because it leverages the wonderful creativity of youth to help with mental health issues. Students are a rich source of ideas and originality. For example, a Hmong student created a PSA for the Hmong community addressing a cultural clash issue: if a Hmong student has a “vision,” how is one to distinguish between a psychotic break vs. a calling to become a Hmong shaman?
Director’s Cut is original because the students—through their own social media networks— function as health information dissemination multipliers. Students speak a common vernacular and their peer-to-peer communications are effective at stigma reduction. Finally, Director’s Cut is ingenious because PSAs are portable and used in so many ways: in school presentations, with community professionals, or to show to legislators. One-minute videos are entertaining, fun, and accessible as everybody can take one minute to watch a video.
Mental Health PSA training is perfect for an organization to take into a high school or college, and gives an opportunity to teach about mental health issues through the exciting medium of video. Alternatively, the materials can be sent to a teacher to implement in the classroom just as easily. For example, Professor Ramani Durvasula of CSU Los Angeles was able to implement the project as part of a college class assignment for a large class of 180 students. The class-curriculum design itself—a teach-review-teach approach lends itself well to other topics, and we applied it to a Psych-Tech conference in 2016. Additionally, in 2016, this project was presented at the California NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) conference to statewide NAMI chapters, teachers, and interested lay personnel. Finally, the materials have been made available to all 20 local chapters of the California Psychological Association.
The Sacramento (SCOE) and Placer (PCOE) County of Education have embraced the program and have disseminated it to schools in their district; it has become an annual part of the counties’ programming. Not only does it give them a valuable product to help schools with, it also keeps the county offices connected with Sacramento Valley Psychological Association. This is a simple but powerful and effective way to help de-stigmatize mental health issues, and it ensures that mental health mentorship always has a place in the classroom. The program is sustainable because the cost is next to nothing; besides materials being sent out, it requires only volunteer time of professionals going into the classroom. Thus the program is low cost and high return. Replication is simple, and every time it is replicated the relationships grow stronger and mental health issues become less stigmatized.
Director’s Cut can be done for any topic, is easily scalable, and will always cause students to delve deeply into a topic. This is because creating a PSA—a one minute message with a main point and call to action—requires a depth of knowledge in order to pick out the single message and the action item. PSA-making is an easy-to-transfer concept because it builds on what students already have facility with—making video—but adds a specific important purpose. When other organizations adopt it, they surely will adapt it, because it is flexible. For example, when we added an awards ceremony—like academy awards—more schools participated, and the awards and viewings sparked further interest for the next year. We are now planning a “best-practices” convocation where we share what worked best with other groups using the concept.
In 2016, we surveyed Office of Education personnel as well as teachers and found that students increased their mental health knowledge, had more empathy for those with mental illness and were more comfortable discussing mental illness. They participated more in the community, had a better sense of their career direction, and felt this was a good way to spread mental health information. As a result of Phase III Activation requirements, students conveyed to legislators the importance of mental health services, participated in community mental health resource events and helped reduce stigma. Overall, not only were students transformed, but so were teachers and Office of Education personnel. In implementing Director’s Cut, we utilized students themselves as a rich source of ideas and originality for solving a social problem; we leveraged students’ social media networks to multiply information transmission; and we found that PSA training is easily scaled with very low cost.
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