8.4 Emphasizing Ethics

Contributed by Dr. Sara Champlin

Given what you learned in Module 7, as you are documenting, you may encounter discussions about emotionally traumatizing topics. This is also the case when it comes to health and wellness. This includes aspects of physical health such as catching a cold, breaking a bone, experiencing a heart attack, and undergoing cancer treatments, just to name a few. Moreover, health and wellness also includes aspects of mental and spiritual health. Many communities have faced severe fear, threats, and stigmatization. Discussion of depression, anxiety, stress, and even suicide can arise during conversations about health and it is important to consider the appropriate course of action you will take, should these topics arise during data collection. Within specific contexts and communities, you may feel that discussion of these topics might seem highly unlikely, but it is essential that you have a plan in place prior to beginning your project. 

Despite anonymity agreements, university systems typically require researchers to report to specific departments if a participant mentions intentions or behaviors to hurt themselves or others. Your state and university have specific rules and requirements regarding this, which you should consult as you conceptualize your documentation project. For example, in the State of Texas, we are required to report any mentions or discussions of sexual assault, harassment, stalking, or dating violence, past or present to our Title IX Coordinator, if the participant is affiliated with the university (i.e, student, staff, faculty, etc.). In many cases in the context of health studies, Institutional Review Boards (IRB) will ask researchers to provide 24/7 emergency contact numbers, such as a suicide hotline number, if you are performing health-related research. Additionally, they may ask you to provide an appropriate plan to ensure that your participants are provided with resources that will help your participant with what they are experiencing.

It is important to review the polices and procedures that might apply to your study. Contacting your IRB coordinator is an informative place to start, as well as involving community leaders and stakeholders in inquire about what may be most appropriate for the community.