Dialogue Between Participants in the UCLA HOPE Study

The following Q&A is for the UCLA Social Network Health Study.

dialogueWhat kind of conversations are HOPE peer leaders trained to have with each other and with study participants?

In the HIV intervention group, the peer leaders are trained to discuss topics related to HIV prevention and testing as well as stigma and cultural barriers associated with HIV. The control group peer leaders are also trained to discuss topics related to stigma and cultural barriers, but within the broader realm of general health, and not specifically HIV. The control group training is focused entirely on the components of healthy living, such as diet and exercise, mental health, alcohol and drug abuse, and so on. Above all, peer leaders from both groups are taught through examples and activities how to engage the participants in a friendly and approachable manner, using Facebook tools.

The peer leaders report to health experts once a week to go over any challenges and obstacles they may have experienced communicating with the participants and we are prepared to provide support to them as needed.

Have HOPE peer leaders been discussing current events? Have you noticed a response among the peer leaders to the recent tragedy at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida?

The peer leaders are currently preparing for the study by keeping the conversation active in the private Facebook groups. They spent time with each other during the three training sessions and have continued the conversation online since the training ended. The topics have ranged from pop culture, health, life events, LGBT issues, and HIV-related stigma, so it was not surprising that the tragedy in Orlando night sparked an exchange on the Facebook walls of both groups. The reactions ranged from sadness to helplessness and anger. It took a day or two for someone to write a post on the tragedy, and eventually many responded with their thoughts. Several peer leaders also posted details of gatherings and vigils that were being held in honor of lives lost at Pulse. The group was reflective and united in their thoughts.

What topics are “off limits?” Is there an enforced code of netiquette for study participants or other rules of discussion that peer leaders should know about?

Throughout the training sessions, we have stressed that peer leaders are advised to not provide medical information to the participants. If a participant appears to be experiencing risk that requires assistance or reporting self-harm, peer leaders have been told to contact researchers immediately so that we can connect the at-risk individual(s) to the proper medical and clinical services, if needed.

What are the most common topics of discussion among study participants?

The conversations among the participants and peer leaders developed organically in the pilot study throughout the 12-week period and we are expecting the same for the current study. Once the study begins, we are anticipating the topics to revolve around current events, pop culture, HIV and health, relationships, life challenges, and so on. The researchers do not intervene or steer the conversation in any way.

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