We’ve been focused on narrative and the role it plays in both advancing social change and reinforcing harmful misperceptions. When it comes to health equity, narratives can have a powerful impact on attitudes and beliefs, and can lead to shifts in the behaviors, policies and systems that create or impede equity. There are many examples about narrative and its role in helping or hurting efforts to promote public health. For example, the dominant narrative on childhood obesity has blamed parents for failing their children rather than focusing on the systemic and structural barriers to health.
At the recent APHA Annual Meeting, two members of our team (Kevin Kirkpatrick and Karen Saverino) presented on the subject narrative. Their focus was on how narrative can serve as either a vaccine (bolstering protective factors) or as a pathogen (undermining protective factors or increasing risk and incidence) in advancing public health. The example they used was on gun violence, building on two articles Kevin wrote over the last year on this subject for Stanford Social Innovation Review:
- Changing the False Narrative That Conflates Gun Violence and Mental Illness
- A Crack Opens in the False Narrative on Gun Violence