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Program to create improved social media resources for adolescent mental health receives C. Felix Harvey Award

Marisa Marraccini feature image

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A program that will bring researchers and high school students together to develop a social media campaign that provides mental health resources for adolescents has received the C. Felix Harvey Award to Advance Institutional Priorities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Marisa Marraccini, Ph.D., assistant professor at the UNC School of Education, will lead the team that is receiving funding from the award. Marraccini and a team of collaborators will work side-by-side with high school students in Lee County, North Carolina, to craft social media messaging and test its efficacy through a co-creation process. The campaign will be designed to provide education and therapeutic skills to prevent mental health disorders.

Marraccini, who is a licensed school psychologist, said she often incorporates ideas from adolescents into her work, and that inspired her to include them directly in her efforts to develop improved messaging about mental health.

“Adults tend to teach teens directly – in school and in therapy – but they can be more receptive to learning from their peers,” Marraccini said. “Teens have the knowledge and the insight to make the same ideas adults try to share with them better and more relevant.”

Three groups of Lee County students will be recruited and receive stipends to participate.
One group will co-design messaging, a second group will provide feedback to improve the campaign, and a final group will participate in an effectiveness study. 1893 Brand Studio, a marketing agency led by UNC-Chapel Hill students, will provide creative consultation and support video and media development.

“Our work follows a human-centered design approach, which is becoming more and more the norm, where designers are centering user perspectives, needs, and insights from the beginning as opposed to circling back to it later,” Marraccini said.

Marraccini’s work comes as rates of adolescent depression, anxiety, and suicide-related thoughts have risen, according to data from the CDC. Her proposal for the Harvey Award notes that clinical interventions that address these challenges often come through talk therapy or worksheet-based activities, while teens have become more accustomed to receiving information and resources on digital platforms.

“We know that kids are seeking out health-related information online,” Marraccini said. “We know that groups that are often stigmatized or shamed especially seek resources there. We know that it is difficult for them to distinguish high-quality health information from low quality. If we’re going to support teen mental health, we are obligated to go online.”

Other members of the project team include: Robert Hubal, a research scientist at the Renaissance Computing Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill; Casey Calhoun, adjunct professor for the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience in the UNC College of Arts and Sciences and practicing licensed clinical psychologist; and Natalia Torres del Valle, a registered expressive arts therapist.

Marraccini’s program is the 18th initiative at UNC-Chapel Hill to receive funding from the C. Felix Harvey Award. The Harvey Award recognizes exemplary faculty who reflect the University’s commitment to innovative engagement and outreach for the benefit of communities on a local and statewide level. Previous recipients have pursued projects including an augmented reality game to help pediatric hospital patients remain active during their treatments and a toolkit to help employers better support employees with autism.

The late C. Felix Harvey was chairman of Harvey Enterprises & Affiliates and founder of the Little Bank Inc., both located in Kinston, North Carolina. A 1943 Carolina graduate, he joined his family in 2007 to endow the Harvey Awards with a $2 million commitment. Five generations of Harveys have earned UNC-Chapel Hill degrees.

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