Opening the Minds’ Eye: The Pivotal Role of Sympathy in Depression Coverage Effectiveness

Abstract: Depression is one of the most severe health threats to the college student population. Depression communication plays an essential role in reducing stigma and discrimination against sufferers. However, the effectiveness of such communication remains understudied, especially when it comes to the psychological process connecting depression message and communication outcomes. To tackle this challenge, this study examined whether and how depression coverage with news framing strategy and attribution approach influenced college students’ affective and cognitive response as well as their willingness to provide social support to depression sufferers. Key findings include: 1) Controlling for issue involvement, depression coverage with episodic framing and societal responsibility attribution evoked the most sympathy among participants; and 2) Sympathy toward the depressed individual and efficacy in depression identification served as sequential mediators for the effects of the depression coverage with episodic framing and societal attribution on social support willingness. These insights suggest health communication researchers and practitioners should use effective storytelling to evoke more sympathy, which then activates higher efficacy and leads to stronger social support willingness.