Podcasts are a uniquely intimate medium, often delving deeply into a topic, an event or a period of time
On the Same Wavelength is my new six-part podcast featuring everyday Australians opening up about their experiences of complex mental health. The podcast looks at how we can improve outcomes across a range of life domains.
It was developed as part of my PhD, through a collaboration between the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences and SANE, Australia’s leading national mental health organisation for people with complex mental health needs.
The guests’ stories are honest and confronting, but hopeful. By sharing their stories, I hope we can all be on the same wavelength and reduce stigma.
A podcast born to combat stigma
The original idea for this podcast came in 2020 as part of the National Stigma Report Card. This report card showcased the findings of the national Our Turn to Speak survey of nearly 2000 Australians between October 2019 and April 2020.
The report card contains robust data on the concerning levels of stigma experienced by people affected by complex mental health conditions, across areas including schools and universities, social media and mass media, employment, sporting and community groups, and healthcare.
The report card also includes real stories from people with lived experiences about how stigma and discrimination have affected their lives.
SANE has a long history of valuing the voices of people with lived experience. SANE’s Peer Ambassadors are people with personal experience of living with or supporting someone affected by complex mental health conditions. They use their lived experience for advocacy and awareness raising, both within SANE and for other organisations.
I knew that a podcast platform could be a powerful and impactful way to amplify their stories.
Each episode focuses on the unique stories of one SANE Peer Ambassador, speaking about their experience of stigma and discrimination in a particular life domain, including relationships, education, media, healthcare, and workplaces. It also includes interviews with people working in the stigma reduction space.
These sorts of personal stories, shared conversationally and openly, have the power to both captivate and educate podcast audiences.
After all, that’s what people connect with – real stories.
But as I began this process, one question stood out: how do we design an effective, but carefully considered mental health-themed podcast, and understand its impact?
The research behind the podcast
I was due to start researching this question for my PhD in March 2020. But the world came to a standstill with the COVID-19 pandemic. After some delays, I managed to get started a few months later – transitioning most of my research plans to the virtual environment – and spent the next three years collecting data, developing the format of the podcast, and recording.
To my delight, during this time podcast listening has grown and grown and is now one of the most popular forms of media for Australians.
The first stage of my research was to understand existing podcast listeners, their interests, and listening habits.
I began by running a survey of over 600 Australians who listen to podcasts, with the results published in Communication Studies. Key findings include:
- Around one-third had listened to a mental health-themed podcast. These listeners typically had more positive attitudes towards people experiencing mental health conditions.
- Reasons for listening to mental health-themed podcasts included: to understand mental health better, to learn strategies to support mental health and because it’s a topic people care about.
This study showed that there was definitely an audience who were seeking the kind of content I had in mind and gave me the impetus to delve further.
The next stage was a co-design study, recently published in JMIR Formative Research.
For this study, I collaborated with key target audience members to inform the podcast’s development. I ran focus groups with people with lived experience, healthcare professionals, media and communications professionals and people interested in workplace mental health.
These focus groups allowed me to understand the potential challenges of the podcast – and how we might overcome them.
From there, I established a co-design committee. Over a series of workshops, we achieved consensus on the focus of individual episodes, deciding to concentrate on domains where stigma and discrimination are common and impactful.
We also developed a storyboard for individual episodes, centralising guests with lived experiences and featuring explicit discussions around stigma and discrimination. Importantly, we settled on overarching content principles, including a sincere, empathetic and hopeful tone.
Through this process we also identified the importance of using plain language, having clear calls to action and providing resources for listeners.
What I learned
It’s not enough to just raise awareness around mental health or to challenge myths.
To make a real difference, we need to listen to and connect with people with lived experience – to understand the challenges they have faced, to amplify their voices and to highlight how we can help others with similar experiences. After all, social contact is a critical piece of stigma reduction activity.
Because of the co-design process, I believe that On the Same Wavelength is uniquely placed to help bring about positive changes. To test this, I am currently working on a study to understand the impact of listening to the podcast on listeners’ attitudes to mental health and stigma.
Most people know someone who has experienced a mental health condition, or psychological distress. Whether you’re in a personal, educational, professional or social setting, I hope you listen to the podcast and feel empowered to make a positive difference.
And for listeners with lived experience – I hope the podcast gives you some comfort. You’re not alone.
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