Bringing Mental Health Awareness through Focus Groups

Mental health can be a subject negatively stigmatized in many communities. When conducting a focus group related to mental health, the research should ensure the topic is facilitated in a way which is sensitive to different experiences and appeals to the research participants in a way that enables them to feel comfortable sharing their experiences. Including people from diverse backgrounds and like-minded individuals who have experienced mental health issues or have been in close contact with someone who has experienced similar realities can create honest responses in your focus group. People are willing to share their feelings in a group where there is sufficient empathy amongst people with similar experiences. Conducting your research online can be set up to provide anonymity allowing participants to feel safe contributing and create diverse answers during your focus group. Here are some tips to ensure the most honest results and allowing safety in sharing diverse experiences in mental health.

  1. To ensure trust, clarify the purpose behind your research and its relation to how mental health plays a significant role in a person’s overall wellness. It is also important to assure the participants that their privacy is maintained and that their personal information will never be shared with anyone. This can be done by using a secure platform that is HIPAA and GDPR compliant.
  2. To get the conversation started, the moderator can share a personal experience about their mental health journey whether it can directly relate to them or in relation to someone they have been in close contact with. The conversation could also highlight some of the major factors that trigger mental health issues in your focus group. This would also be a good place to touch on various symptoms that can be a result of mental health.
  3. During an online discussion board, if the participants feel uncomfortable at any point, they can always share their responses directly with the moderator without the other participants having to see anything. This can be done by either sending a private message to the moderator or by ensuring all the responses are set in the interview mode so that nothing is ever visible to anyone else.
  4. Using inclusive language and avoiding misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the moderator with respect to gender and race can be facilitated by preparing questions ahead of time and preprogramming questions so that they are already set up and ready to go as part of the discussion guide. This can also help prevent getting sidetracked when there are a lot of emotions involved in the conversation and help you move on with your research. There are also a lot of creative methods that you can implement in your research, for example, you could post a poll for the participants to answer, share an image or other media and have your participants comment on the subject matter.
  5. It is also important to understand that there is no one size that fits all. Be aware that experiences such as the mental health journeys that participants encounter will impact their current experience of the focus group. Watch for signs and cues to communicate inclusivity and support to facilitate a positive experience.

Both Realtime online focus groups and online discussion board focus groups can be highly effective methodologies for conducting mental health research. The moderator plays a key role in creating a safe and effective environment for sharing experiences, views, and recommendations.  Employing techniques to create a supportive environment will enhance the research experience, results and raise awareness of mental health within the focus group’s participants and observers.  To discuss the technology implementation of strategies to facilitate private communications and features within focus groups, feel free to reach out to book a call with an itracks research specialist.