Why Stories Matter for Health
We have all heard health statistics—and then promptly forgotten them. We have all experienced powerful emotions during medical encounters that have prevented us from asking the “right” questions about our conditions. And we have all experienced situations when our beliefs, language or communication styles did not align with those of our medical providers. But when the barriers are systematically larger based on the color of our skin, our ethnic or cultural background, our gender, or our sexual orientation, I believe it is a serious issue of human rights. We all deserve equal access to our best health.
During my time as an intern at New Routes, I have observed a unique, yet simple, solution to inequality in access to culturally appropriate health information: community storytelling. Storytelling is not only captivating and enjoyable for the audience, but is also supported by research in the fields of communication and public health. Part of my role as a student intern includes uniting the lessons of these academic disciplines with the practical work that New Routes is invested in. In that spirit, below are a few research-supported ideas that help explain the value of the community storytelling work of New Routes.
The most important factor most people use to decide whether they will follow health and safety advice is how much they trust in the source of the information. If an organization or individual has credibility with the community, health and safety advice will be taken seriously. If there is no trust between the messenger and the receiver, there is no clever slogan in the world that will move people to action.
Emotions & Memory
Stories tie a message to human emotions. Emotions have been shown to aid in memory and recall of health and safety information. Stories also serve as “signal events” that warn others of possible harm or highlight the benefits of a particular action. Statistics and technical explanations, on the other hand, require a high level of motivation, time, and skill to interpret. For most people, most of the time, statistics are not helpful in motivating people to take action on behalf of their health.
Watch and Listen
New Research & Recommendations
This report (PDF 3.8MB) offers guidance for community organizations and those who fund social change in how best to harness the power of local media-making for community health improvement. Spanish-language version is now available. Una versión en español de este informe esta en la web.