Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Preferred Name

Ethan D. Smith

Date of Award

Spring 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


School of Communication Studies


Heather Carmack



Low treatment rates for depression are commonly observed among young adults of typical college age in particular. Fear of social judgement makes stigma a commonly identified barrier to depression treatment. What is unclear is how the willingness of university students to communicate about depression may influence or be influenced by stigma. Guided by the Theory of Planned Behavior and the Health Belief Model, the present thesis investigates the stigma attitudes of students toward depression, as well as their willingness to communicate about depression. To do this, an online survey was conducted with depression stigma scales and adapted willingness to communicate (WTC) scales. Results indicate that students are more willing to talk with friends about depression than they are with family about depression or with mental healthcare providers, and that students perceive greater stigma in others than they report having themselves. Also, with the exception of perceived stigma, each of the WTC and stigma scales and subscales were correlated with and predicted each other, suggesting a reciprocal relationship of influence between WTC and stigma. Focus groups were conducted which supplemented and added to the quantitative findings with themes of WTC with an intimate few, perceived stigma, help-provision desires, and perceived public ignorance of severity. These themes contributed to the development of campaign materials intended to encourage more frequent and destigmatizing conversations about depression among college students. Campaign message-related themes of preference for explicit expressions of relevancy and privacy concerns contributed to message revision. The study concludes with recommendations for further research and advocacy work.