Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Communication and Information



First Advisor

Dr. Kimberly Parker

Second Advisor

Dr. Bobi Ivanov


Extensive research, predating and during the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrates the rising prevalence of anxiety and depression among Gen Z college students in the United States—findings which are accompanied by rising rates of suicide, the second leading cause of death among people aged 15-24. Although college campuses often offer mental health resources, the number of college students utilizing them is significantly less than the number of students reporting mental health challenges. A dearth of empirical evidence, focused on Gen Z specifically, exists as a basis for developing interventions to address this issue. This investigation addressed this gap through two component studies. Study 1 consisted of formative focus groups guided by the theory of planned behavior, which revealed insight into students’ attitudes, experiences, and knowledge related to mental health help-seeking. Study 2 involved message design and testing, leveraging formative data from Study 1. Using inoculation theory as a theoretical framework, messages were designed and delivered in terse formats (less than 280 characters) and as part of a booster message, or reinforcement, strategy in alignment with the theory’s biological metaphor. Results demonstrated some support for the use of terse messages as initial treatments and as booster messages—the first evidence of either effective design for either operationalization of inoculation theory. The findings provide a foundation for further research into these theoretical nuances, as well as for comprehensive social marketing campaign development aiming to persuade Gen Z college students to seek treatment for mental health.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)